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21 other counties already at levy rate Kanawha seeks

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- If an additional Kanawha County Schools excess levy is passed Nov. 9, the county will join 21 others around the state that already collect the maximum amount of property taxes legally allowed for education purposes.

If passed, tax rates in Kanawha County -- the state's largest -- would be about 15 percent higher than the state average, but still lower than eight other counties including Putnam, according to the 2013 state auditor's report on levy rates.

While opponents of the proposed levy have warned it would make Kanawha County the only one in the state with two school excess levies, Kanawha County citizens will not be paying any more than the citizens in those 21 counties with a single excess levy.

The passage of the levy would uncap the current school excess levy and allow for the collection of 100 percent of the amount allowed under state law, which would total to about $131 million for Kanawha County Schools over the next five years, with at least $3 million going to the county's libraries each year.

The levy was originally proposed to help keep the library system afloat after the state Supreme Court ruled the school board no longer had to financially support it, meaning a 40 percent cut to the library's total operating budget.

Kanawha County is the first in the state to split a school levy in half like that, which can be confusing for taxpayers to understand, said Sean O'Leary, a fiscal policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy who's studied the proposed levy.

"It's not unprecedented for a levy to be split where two smaller levies add up to the maximum under state law, it's just never been done with a school levy before," O'Leary said. "It is confusing, so it's no surprise that people would think that two levies means more money. It's true Kanawha County will be the only county with two excess levies, but in practice, it doesn't really matter because the amount is the same, from the perspective of the taxpayers.

"The cap is the cap. You can't go above it," he said. "You pay your taxes all at once -- it's just where it goes is what's unique in Kanawha County's situation."

For a Kanawha County resident with a home appraised at $100,000 and vehicles appraised at $15,000, the passage of the levy would amount to an increase of about $125 in taxes per year.

But estimating how, exactly, the levy would affect an individual can get complicated, O'Leary said, because levy rates are expressed in cents per $100 valuation.

If you live inside Charleston, multiply the assessed value of your home by 0.015192 -- the equivalent of the tax rate. Then multiply the assessed value of your vehicles by 0.030384.

The total of those two figures will equal the total amount of taxes due for one year in Kanawha County, assuming the school excess levy passes.

For people who live in unincorporated areas of Kanawha County, the assessed value of your home can be multiplied by 0.012564, and the assessed value of vehicles by 0.025128.

Assessed value is 60 percent of appraised value.

Any additional taxes specific to your city should be added into the equation.

A person living in Charleston with a home appraised at $100,000 and vehicles worth $15,000 currently pays about $1,060 in total taxes each year.

If passed, the school excess levy will increase taxes between 12 percent and 15 percent, depending on where you live in Kanawha County, according to O'Leary.

Kanawha County Board of Education President Pete Thaw has campaigned against the levy, while other school board members and library officials have urged that the passage of the levy is crucial to keep libraries open and help offset a potential deficit for the school system.

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

The special election will take place Nov. 9.

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


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