On Saturday, Jan. 19, Upshur County voters will head to the polls to decide whether or not to extend the current school levy for another five years. Before you cast your ballot, here are five things you should know about the levy:
- Your taxes will not increase
The first thing that folks should know is that voting yes and passing the upcoming school levy will not cause taxes to increase. Upshur County School Superintendent Dr. Sara Lewis Stankus said taxes will stay the same if the levy is extended, and the levy rate is already among the lowest in the state.
“I think people need to know that first, because it is a big question,” Stankus said.
Upshur County has the third lowest levy tax in the state. All levy funds raised in Upshur County stay in Upshur County – they aren’t sent to Charleston or anywhere else. Also, the Homestead Exemption continues to apply to persons aged 65 and older.
The current Upshur County excess levy has been in effect since July 1, 1999 and must be approved by local voters every five years. The current levy expires in June 2019.
According to the Upshur County school levy flyer, the levy will help the approximately 3,800 students enrolled in Upshur County Schools. All programs and all students will be impacted by the special levy dollars.
State allocations and federal funding provide only a portion of the total dollars needed to operate public schools. Local funding through special levies make up the shortfall. In Upshur County this represents approximately 9 percent of the general current expense budget.
The upcoming special levy, if approved, will support school safety and security, including prevention resource officers; $200 each year for teacher supplies; instructional and technology tools for 21st Century curriculum and instruction; improving and updating school libraries; facility and equipment maintenance; student-related community services including free admission to all students, senior citizens, active military and veterans to school-sponsored extra-curricular activities; and support for art, music and athletic extra-curricular programs.
2. Strong schools mean big business
The second thing to know about the excess school levy is that a well funded school system attracts new business to the area. Stankus said the schools are a thermometer of the health of the community.
“We have very supportive community, and historically, they have supported the children,” Stankus said.
3. The levy makes our schools safer
The third important point of the Upshur County excess school levy is it will provide funding for school safety and security, as well as prevention resource officers.
“This helps keep our kids safe,” Stankus said.
In addition, those levy dollars can often multiply when combined with state and fedearl grants.
For example, Upshur County secured $1.5 million in additional funding by using the levy to supply local matching dollars from 2014 to 2018 for electrical, ceiling, lighting and HVAC upgrades, as well as $546,000 from the School Building Authority for a new roof at Tennerton Elementary.
4. The levy is an investment in the future of Upshur County
The fourth important item about the levy is that it is a positive reflection of a supportive community.
The special school excess levy is a tax placed on property to directly fund education programs and services critical to the operation of Upshur County schools. Levy funds help the Upshur County School System meet the demands of preparing students for success in life and the workplace.
Without the levy, it would be necessary to reduce and eliminate educational programs and services, compromising the quality of education presently provided to students. All Upshur County schools benefit from the levy, and with levy support, Upshur County schools:
- Are fully accredited;
- Provide additional staffing not funded through basic state aid, including technical support and academic coaches;
- Implement research-based training and staff development;
- Provide advanced placement, honors and dual credit courses;
- Partner with Fred Eberle Technical Center to offer career readiness programs;
- Are improving English Language Arts and math performance;
- Enhance safety and security with cameras, visitor screening and prevention resource officers;
- Are implementing our comprehensive education facilities plan; and
- Receive approximately $3.2 million annually for budget support.
5. Voting is important
Fifth and finally, everyone needs to get out there and cast their ballots. Upshur County Clerk Carol J. Smith provided My Buckhannon with vital information about voting for the upcoming levy.
Smith said early voting begins on Jan. 4 and runs through Jan. 16.
“The hours are Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.,” Smith said. “Code requires that the two Saturdays before the election you are open for voting from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.”
Early voting for the election takes place at the Upshur County Courthouse at 40 W. Main St. in the hallway in the County Clerk’s Office.
Smith said the last day of early voting at the Upshur County Clerk’s Office will be Wednesday, Jan. 16 The last day to register to vote for the special election for the school levy is Dec. 31.
“Folks wishing to register to vote can register online, register through the mail or you can come into the county courthouse,” Smith said.
Election day itself will be Saturday, Jan. 19.
“The special school levy election will be on Saturday, Jan. 19,” Smith said. “The polls open at 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. People will vote where they would normally vote if it was a regular election.”
Those folks who are out of town or who cannot make it to the polls for early voting or for voting on the day of the election can request an absentee ballot.
“If someone needs to request an absentee ballot, they can do so anytime now through Jan. 14,” Smith said. “You can request an absentee ballot through the West Virginia Secretary of State website or on the upshurcounty.org website. The sample ballot will be on the county web page and will be published as they should.”
Smith said she really encourages folks to get out and exercise their right to vote.
“I looked at the last two excess levy elections,” Smith said. “In 2009, there was almost a 19 percent turnout of voters, and in 2014, there was a turnout of nearly 22 percent of the voters.”
Smith said as of today, they already have all of the needed of poll workers; however, she said they can always use alternates.
“We have some people, especially if the weather is bad, who may not be able to make it out that day,” Smith said. “We call always use alternates.”