Financial losses from COVID-19 threaten Tazewell County’s college tuition program

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TAZEWELL, VA (WVNS) — The Tazewell County board of supervisors are trying to save the county’s free college tuition program from becoming another victim of COVID-19.

The board meeting on Tuesday, June 2, 2020 shed light on the financial losses Tazewell County suffered due to COVID-19, leaving little money left to put back into the community.

Beginning in 2019, Tazewell County, along with a private donor, began covering tuition for local high school graduates that went on to attend Southwest Virginia Community College. However, the board of supervisors said COVID-19 did a number on the county’s budget, and the program could be in jeopardy. 

“We definitely want to continue this,” supervisor Travis Hackworth said. “But with our current financial situation in Tazewell County, we are really looking under every rock to see where we can get our funds.”

According to the board of supervisors, Tazewell County suffered a $1 million loss in revenue due to the pandemic, and they cannot use relief money from the state to replace revenue. The Commonwealth of Virginia also withdrew funding for these programs. Additionally, the program was successful, outgrowing the original budget.

“That was what we had budgeted – about $50,000 – in the budget for 2020 to start this program,”Hackworth said. “Looking forward, if it was that successful again, we were looking at about $100,000 over budget.”

Wanting to uphold their promise to students without raising property taxes, the board has six months to find additional funds. The college agreed to grant an extension for all tuition owed for affected students for that six month period.

Supervisor, Charles Stacy, said, “I feel it is our obligation for the students that made the choice to stay here. I think it’s our obligation to support and find a way to make those students participate in the program the way they intended.”

The board is also looking at a deadline, implementing a cap on the program in the future, and limiting funds to the students who need it the most. On Wednesday, the board announced they will continue to cover tuition in full for the class of 2019, and summer and fall semesters for the class of 2020. 

The board also made budget cuts to the Sheriff’s department and the school system. The county budget is set to be finalized after the June 25th vote.

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