The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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January 23, 2013

Fayette County’s excess school levy vote rapidly approaching

FAYETTEVILLE — Early voting begins Saturday for Fayette County’s excess school levies special election. Voters will decide whether to continue providing 14 percent of the county school system’s general operating funds through additional property taxes.  

A list of the uses for the funds are printed on the ballot. They include free textbooks, athletic bus trip support, playground equipment, reading support and 25 other items.

Voters simply mark whether they are “for” or “against” the levy.

They can show up at any of the three early voting locations through Feb. 6: The Memorial Building in Fayetteville, Danese Community Building or Montgomery City Hall. For the general election, voters must go to the location in their home district. Voting day is Feb. 9

The levy is not to be confused with a bond, says Fayette County Clerk Kelvin Holliday.

“This is not a bond. This does not have anything to do with consolidation and that is an important point for the voter to know,” he said. “They are only voting on continuing something that has historically passed in Fayette County."

The levy has been in place for at least 60 years and comes up for a simple majority vote every five years, according to Fayette County Schools Associate Superintendent Serena Starcher.

Holiday says it typically passes by a 60 to 70 percent margin.

“We’ve been very good in the past about supporting our school levy,” he said.

How much households pay depends on the assessed value of their property.

For farm owners, the rate is 23 cents per $100 of value. Owner-occupied properties are assessed 46 cents per $100. Finally, owners of vacant or non-owner-occupied property in the county pay 92 cents per $100.

The total annual amount raised would be $9,271,245. Fayette County Schools’ general fund is approximately $70 million in total.

Starcher said her office hasn’t received calls pro or con, but she has received some questions.

Some wondered about universal feeding, which is a new item on the list. The program provides free meals to all students regardless of income and is “designed to support child nutrition programs and increase breakfast and lunch participation while eliminating any barriers hindering a child’s ability to participate,” according to the state Department of Education.

Other new items added to the levy this year include playground equipment, funds to send students to state and national competitions, farm to school program support, athletic bus trip support and an additional bus replacement.

Others asked about the lines for professional and service salary support, and employee dental and vision insurance.

Starcher says the salary supplements apply to everyone across the board — cooks, janitors, bus drivers — and not just teachers and administrators. Professional staff like teachers, principals and counselors receive a $2,900 annual supplement and service employees receive $2,100.

The salary bumps and insurance benefits are aimed at higher recruitment and retention in the system. Most counties that rely on excess levy funds include some similar form of support, says Starcher.

Along with a $1,200,000 item for maintenance of buildings and capital improvements, the salary support line items are the priciest on the list.

This time around, an electronic voting machine equipped for the hearing and visually impaired will be available at the Fayetteville Memorial Building during both early voting and on election day. Others will vote on paper ballots.

Holiday also notes that there is language in the levy this time to allow the school system to reduce the levy rates if certain funding levels are met.

“Levy rates tend to historically rise, and they are hoping that continues,” he said. “But this levy is going to provide sufficient funds even if there is a leveling out. If the levy rates keep rising, they could technically cut rates back from the rates set by this levy call.”

Voter identity is confirmed through a signature comparison; no other documents are necessary at the voting booth.

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