PRINCETON — Early voting for a Nov. 2 special election in which Mercer County voters will choose whether to continue a five-year excess levy for the Mercer County Schools system gets underway today at several polling places.
The current five-year school levy, which expires on June 30, 2020, is based on county property tax assessments. The amount of money the excess levy raises continues to grow based on increased assessments.
Superintendent Deborah Akers spoke Tuesday about how money raised by the five-year levy is spent.
“We have a number of programs and expenses that are paid for exclusively out of the levy and additional programs and expenses that are paid partially out of the levy, so it impacts a lot of different areas within the school system,” Akers said. “We’re talking about extracurricular activities for students. We pay the transportation costs for extracurricular activities out of the levy. Benefits for our teachers. We have an optical benefit, a small reimburshment on vision.”
The levy also helps pay the salaries of additional teachers and service personnel that state funding does not cover, Akers stated.
“If we are over the formula for what the state pays, those are additional positions that we pay out of the levy,” she said. “And that’s important because we have students with high needs. Many times we need to put an additional aide and another additional teacher in a classroom because of their needs and that’s not really covered on the funding formula from the state.”
The state pays county school systems for a certain number of paid positions based on the number of students they have, Akers said.
“And if you have a lot of high needs, special needs youngsters, it just doesn’t cover that cost,” she stated. “For the service personnel, the formula doesn’t quite work. You’ll find that every county in the state is over with the number of service personnel they employ on what they’re funded for. It just isn’t enough. We would be looking at cook reductions or custodian reductions or other areas within the personnel.”
The current excess levy, which expires on June 30, 2020, has raised about $11 million a year. Akers was asked what would happen if the public decides not to approve a new five-year levy.
“Well, what happens is we have to take that amount of money out of the budget so we have to look at everything we have in the system and see where we’re going to cut,” Akers said.
“It’s hard to find $11 million,” she replied when asked whether this could result in personnel cuts. “The board (of education) would have to make final decisions on budgets. I can’t tell you definitely. Take $11 million out of our budget, I don’t see how we could keep the same number of positions.”
Akers said the excess levy is a property tax, “but it’s not a new tax It’s a continuation of what’s been in place.”
County Clerk Verlin Moye outlined how county property tax collections are divided among the funds’ recipients.
“It’s a non-partisan issue and according to my calculations, represents roughly 40 percent of the total amount of your tax ticket,” Moye said.
The state receives 1 percent of the property taxes, and the county receives 25 percent. The regular school portion – which is mandated by the Legislature – is 34 percent, and the excess levy portion is 40 percent, he stated.
When the school system’s allocations are added together, this gives the school system a total of 74 percent of the county property taxes.
“Yes, that’s correct,” Moye said. “The 34 percent, we have no control over that. That’s set by the Legislature. And then there’s the 40 percent we have control over and that’s why it’s brought before the voters every five years. That’s the maximum length of a levy.”
Moye had an example of a property tax ticket from one East River District resident. One this ticket, the assessed value of property was $13,680. This generated a tax liability of $155.68. Municipalities add a small amount on their citizens’ property taxes. Property taxes are the main sources of revenue for school boards and governments, he said.
Out of that $155.68, the state would receive 68 cents, the county would get $39.13, the regular school levy would receive $53.08, and the school excess levy would collect $62.79, Moye said.
If voters do not approve the new excess levy, it would be removed for the property tax ticket.
“Using the same example, my taxes would be $62.79 cheaper,” Moye stated. “That would be taken off of there, providing they (school system) doesn’t come back with another election. They can come back and ask for a smaller amount to see if the voters would have an appetite for that.”
“The people can just look at their own tax tickets and see what portion currently goes to the excess levy, and that’s the amount we’re talking about,” Moye stated. “As the appraisals go up, so does the tax revenue it generates.”
The new five-year excess levy is projected at this time to generate about $12.9 million a year, Moye said. This would come to a total of about $64.5 million over the five years.
These amounts can decrease or increase depending on property in the county, he said. If a new hotel is built, it would generate more property taxes. When Bluefield Regional Medical Center was purchased by Princeton Community Hospital and became a nonprofit, that property was gone.
“So that comes off the books,” Moye said. “But they’re (school system) well aware of that.”
Early voting for the levy begins Friday and continues until Oct. 30. Voting hours will be 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, and on Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The early voting polls will be at the following locations:
• Mercer County Courthouse
• Bluefield Auditorium at 1780 Stadium Drive, Bluefield.
• Four Seasons Answering Service at 3311 Coal Heritage Road in Bluewell.
• Covenant Baptist Church at 145 Wyndale Drive off Athens Road near Princeton.
— Contact Greg Jordan at firstname.lastname@example.org