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Levy voters, it's your call

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Proponents of an additional school and library excess levy for Kanawha County have raised more than $100,000 so far.

"We're delighted by the campaign financial report. This money came from businesses, library patrons, parents, teachers and other community members. I think that's a good reflection of the depth of support we're seeing for this thing," said Kids Education Yes Committee director Joel Coon.

KEY is made up of business leaders and community members and was launched last month with the support of Kanawha County school board members, with the sole purpose of promoting passage of the Nov. 9 excess levy.

The majority of the campaign money has gone toward direct voter communication, like informational mailings and office space for volunteer phone banks, helping the committee to make at least 10,000 phone calls and "door knocks," according to Coon.

Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw, however, is doing some campaigning of his own -- against the proposed excess levy.

Thaw said he has raised nearly $1,000 and has contributed $1,000 of his own money to print and distribute pamphlets urging people to vote against the levy.

The levy, with early voting starting Saturday, will mean an additional property tax for Kanawha County citizens, and will not only bring $24.4 million in for technology and facility upgrades for schools, but will also allow the county's libraries to continue to fully operate.

The future of Kanawha County public libraries is unclear after the state Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that the school board no longer has to financially support the library system. The levy, if passed, would bring in around $3.2 million for libraries.

"The people of Kanawha County cannot afford a levy of this magnitude. ... They can't afford to be the only county in the state with two excess levies," Thaw said.

Voters passed a capped school excess levy last year, and if passed, the new levy will uncap that amount and allow the county to collect 100 percent of the legal amount of property tax from its citizens.

"I'm getting a very good reaction. Now the big question is this: Can I get them to the polls?" Thaw said Monday. "That's the whole thing -- the other side's votes are controlled. Mine aren't. Mine are just free people. If there's a big turnout, the people win. If it's a tiny vote, they lose."

Low voter turnout is expected because on Nov. 9 -- the first day of an extended Veterans Day weekend -- both West Virginia University and Marshall University football teams play.

That's why KEY is urging Kanawha County residents to get out and vote at the Voter Registration Office during the early voting period running Saturday through Nov. 6.

"That way they won't be bothered too much on game day. We know that's important," Coon said. "We're reaching out to the most likely voters, and we have overwhelming support. We're building momentum, and we're definitely not going to slack up as we get closer to Election Day."

Not only is Thaw outraged by the tax money proposed by the additional levy, but by the money it will cost the school board on Election Day -- an estimated $350,000 to pay poll workers and print ballots.

"That comes straight out of the classroom. That's what's so sinful about this," Thaw said. "In their desire to get a small vote, they had to hold a special election. But if they had run it on a regular Election Day, it wouldn't have cost anything. If we're so short on money, why are we spending this on the election? That was the whole point."

Early voting runs from Saturday through Nov. 6 at the Voter Registration Office, 415 Quarrier St., from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. during the week, except Thursdays, when voting is open until 7 p.m. Voting runs 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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