Proposed levy increases payment by half
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's official: The Kanawha County school board will approach voters to approve another property tax to benefit the county's schools and public libraries.
That tax, if approved, will increase the amount of money voters pay to the school system by 50 percent.
The board approved the order for an excess levy with a 4-1 vote at its regular meeting Thursday after deliberating the idea for months - ever since financial projections showed the school system approaching a deficit in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
If approved by voters in a special election on Nov. 9, the new tax will raise $21 million for the school system and $3 million for the library in the fiscal year 2014-15. By 2018-19, the five-year levy is projected to raise $28 million for the school system with $3.7 million benefiting the library.
For a person with a $100,000 home and $15,000 in vehicles, the tax increase amounts to around $125 annually. That's 25 percent more than they would pay to benefit the school system otherwise, and a 50 percent increase over the current excess levy.
The idea behind the additional property tax is to "uncap" the board's current excess levy, which can, under the state constitution, generate up to 100 percent of its regular levy.
In the name of tax relief for the public, the board voted last year to propose an excess levy renewal with a flat cap. Voters approved, and that five-year levy - renewal of a tax that has existed in Kanawha County for decades - is scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2014.
But since the board approved that plan, the county's financial situation has changed: Most recent projections show that without another tax, the school system is on course to butt up against a $2.5 million deficit next year and a nearly $3 million deficit by the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The debate has also been tinged by controversy related to a February state Supreme Court decision that found a 1958 law forcing the school system to help fund Kanawha County Public Libraries is unconstitutional, freeing the school system from a funding relationship it felt was unfair but leaving the library system scrambling to come up with nearly $3 million - 40 percent of its operating budget.
Both education and library officials hope this excess levy could be the answer. If approved, 5 percent of the tax will benefit the county's library system.
"We're grateful for the opportunity to pursue this with you," Mike Albert, Kanawha County Library board president, told the school board Thursday. "We plan to work very hard on this with you."
School board President Pete Thaw was the only board member to vote no to the proposed levy - he's stood in opposition to the proposed tax since it was proposed, and says he plans to campaign against it.
"I believe the people of Kanawha County are up to their necks in taxes, and I don't believe we can place this on them," he said. "The only solution is for us to cut our sails to match our cloth. . . . I'm voting no on the assumption that we'll have to make cuts to meet our obligations."
The remainder of the board, however, is resoundingly in favor of the plan, saying it's necessary to advance education in Kanawha County.
"This is for items that will allow us to have growth in some areas and items that will allow us not to fall further behind in some areas," board member Robin Rector said. "I think with this people will have a chance to offer up dollars in an organized fashion, or there will be things we can't do without reaching out to get in people's pockets for anyway."
Board member Bill Raglin said voters ought to have the chance to vote on a referendum on funding for the school system and library.
"When the public makes its decision, puts its mark on the wall, whatever it is, we as public servants need to respect that," he said. "We have an obligation to fully inform and educate the public who are at stake here, and the public needs to make a choice."
The school system plans to mount a campaign in coming months to let the public know exactly what their tax money would be spent on if the additional excess levy is approved.
Contact writer Shay Maunz at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4886.