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School board members debate this fall's excess levy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Kanawha County school board members officially voted Thursday to run an excess levy election in November, with board president Pete Thaw voting against the measure, saying "the people of Kanawha County are up to their necks in taxes."

But school board member Robin Rector says the tax hike is crucial to keep the school system afloat, and if the levy does not pass, there will be major cutbacks.

"People will have to choose whether to offer up some dollars in an organized fashion or ... I don't want this to sound like a threat, but we really, seriously will have to reassess some things. There will be some things that will have to go," Rector said.

"This is their chance to choose to put forth, in an organized fashion, the dollars for those items."

If passed, taxpayers will pay 50 percent more to the school system than they do now. As of last month, school officials said a taxpayer who owned a $100,000 home and a car would pay about $125 more a year to the school system.

The board has tossed around the idea of asking students to pay for extracurricular activities and for Advanced Placement courses to make ends meet if the levy fails.

The five-year levy, up for vote Nov. 9, is in addition to a capped levy passed last year, which would generate about $24 million from taxpayers in its first year if voters approve it.

Last year, Kanawha County voters passed a five-year excess levy for schools, set to begin next July, and elected to cap the amount the school system could receive at about $44 million -- or about 65 percent of what the county is allowed to legally charge taxpayers.

With the passage of the additional levy, that rate would increase, taking advantage of the full 100 percent allowed.

About $3 million of the $24.4 million projected for 2014-15, if the levy passes, would go toward public libraries, while about $8 million would be designated for school technology hardware, and $7 million for technical and adult education upgrades, among other improvements.

Board member Bill Raglin urged Thursday, though, if the board expects the public to pass the levy, they need to be more transparent about where the money will go, and should provide taxpayers with more specific intent.

"We need to be able to do more than just say we're going to spend millions of dollars on technology. We need to ... show the public what they're going to be buying if indeed they decide to buy it," he said. "We need to better define what we're going to do with their money. I believe the public would be more inclined to support it."

While Thaw said he would rather cut back the budget than "lay a burden like this on the taxpayers," board member Becky Jordon said cutting back school services would hurt students.

"In this area, we have less people paying taxes and more people taking from the government than ever before. We have less people paying their own way, so we have to pay more to help all these kids," Jordon said. "We can't decrease our services. If anything, we need to increase our services. There's more need today than we've ever had."Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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