I am a relative newcomer to Rappahannock County who attended the board of supervisors meeting last Monday (April 29). The topic, as I’m sure you know, was the proposed property tax increase to more adequately fund the schools. This was my first board meeting, and as such I chose to listen, not speak. Now, though, I’d like to say a few things.
In some ways, it’s easy to feel as if I shouldn’t have a say in this decision. I am new to the county, after all, and the occasional flare-ups I see on Rappnet where people throw around labels like “come heres” and “been heres” make it clear that there’s a certain . . . well, attitude toward new blood. (I actually consider myself a “love-it-here,” in that I have loved coming here since I was a small child and love that I am able to live here now, but that’s neither here nor there.)
What became quickly apparent at the meeting was that this particular argument has been going on in some form for a very long time – not just this year, apparently, but every year. I might suggest that indicates a more serious underlying problem, one that goes beyond mere taxes, but like I said, I’m new here.
I don’t have any children. Not yet, at least. I may someday. I’m still young enough. In fact, I think, although I can’t prove this, that I might have been one of the youngest people in the room on Monday. At a little north of 40, that doesn’t happen to me much anymore. Well, not outside Rappahannock County. As a child, I attended public schools – my parents wouldn’t have been able to afford a private school, and I doubt they’d have sent me to one even if they could have. I grew up in Fairfax County, though, which at the time had what was widely regarded as one of the best school systems in the nation. Some of the highest property tax rates, too.
I was a kid then, though. I didn’t care about property tax rates. I didn’t care much about school, either, which is somewhat ironic in that I later became a teacher. In fact, I spent six years teaching high school in Fauquier County, another two teaching middle school in Manassas City. I spent one of those year overseas on a Fulbright Exchange, teaching English in the Eastern European nation of Latvia, which had (then) recently emerged from decades of Soviet rule. While I left the classroom for good in 2006, I’ve continued to serve on the board of a local affiliate of the National Writing Project, one of the largest and most effective teacher training organizations in the nation, and I still regularly work with student writing groups and writing workshops. I enjoy it, you see, and I don’t want to stop.
What I’m trying to say here is that I did learn to care about school, the same way I eventually came to care about taxes. I mean, everybody learns to care about taxes. I moved here from Prince William County, where I still own rental property. You want to look at some high property taxes, take a trip to Manassas. I won’t say that lower taxes were one of my reasons for moving out here – low taxes were more like a bonus, actually, a discovery that not only is the cake delicious, it’s also gluten-free. In truth, even if the property rates do go up, I’ll still be barely paying more here for a house on two acres than I am there for a townhouse on a postage stamp. That feels a little like a bargain.
So does that mean I want to pay more on my property taxes? Of course not. Nobody ever wants to pay more on their taxes. In fact, if someone asks you that question – Do you want to pay more on your taxes? – they’re either slow in the head or trying to trick you. It’s never a question of want, it’s a question of willing. And to that question – Are you willing to pay more on your taxes? – my answer is absolutely, yes. I’m willing to pay more because I believe that even as a childless newcomer who enjoys low property rates, I benefit from our county having the best school system it can possibly have. I benefit from this the same way I benefit from well-trained police I never call, or well-maintained roads I never drive. I may not benefit from those things personally, but the society I share space with does.
In the end, I think good education is one of the foundations of our society. It’s more than that, in fact. It’s the foundation’s foundation, what everything else is built on. It’s how we ensure that the future remains at least as good as the past. What I found a little disturbing about Monday’s meeting was how some people, a few, seemed oblivious to that. Maybe they’ve never seen what happens when a foundation is allowed to start crumbling. As a love-it-here, though, I want to do everything I can to prevent that.