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Mercer County School levy on May ballot tabled by county commission

Jan. 25—By GREG JORDAN

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — A 5-year excess school levy that's been in place for 60 years and set to expire in 2025 could be on the ballot for renewal when the May 2024 election is held in Mercer County.

The current excess levy expires in June 2025, according to County Clerk Verlin Moye.

Mercer County's voters will decide whether to continue this excess levy. County Assessor Lyle Cottle said Wednesday that passing the excess levy would not increase taxes.

"When they say it (taxes) won't go up, they're not lying," he stated.

However, county taxes would decrease if the excess levy is not renewed, Cottle added. While families with children can vote to renew it, there are other people who do not have a good retirement income and rely on small monthly Social Security payments.

"If it doesn't go through, your taxes will come down and come down significantly," he said. "I'm not saying I'm against it. I'm just saying the people ought to know the truth."

Money generated by the excess levy is "a huge part" of the Mercer County Schools system budget, said Amy Harrison, data and information specialist for the school system.

"We've had a levy in place in Mercer County for over 60 years and the money that we have received from the levy bridges the gap between our state and federal funding and how much it actually costs to run a school system," Harrison stated. "Some of the things the levy supports are extracurriculars like band, choir, athletics, coaches' salaries, the maintenance of athletic fields, security such as our school resource officers, free textbooks, telecommunications devices and it also provides vision and dental for our employees and their dependents."

"However, if the levy passes, it will not raise taxes," she added.

Mercer County Schools had a request on the Mercer County's Commission's agenda Tuesday to place the school levy on the May 14, 2024 Primary Election ballot. Moye told the commissioners that placing the levy on a county ballot is routine.

"Basically, they need approval from the commission to place that on the ballot so the voters can vote on it," Moye said.

Commissioner Greg Puckett had a question about the school system's request.

"Does the commission have to approve to put it on this ballot?" he asked. "The school (system) is a levying body. Traditionally, we don't have to validate that. They just get on."

Moye said the levy can be on the general election or the primary election ballot.

"The school levy has been passed for the past few decades and they come every five years," Puckett said. "It just so happens it comes on now where you've got a primary election. In talking with the schools and knowing where that money's been, the way I read it when you have a levy, when you vote on that you're voting on a percentage at that moment and as the rates go up over the course of the five years, so does the money increment even though the voters vote on it for that moment. Technically there's some money that comes back in as the years go by and the schools take that money and bank it. What I would like to see in the future is let's work with the county to help those issues where we can work together."

"And the reason I say that, we pay out a lot for law enforcement and the community needs a lot of support in those areas where the schools exist. I'd like to be able to work with the schools to make sure we're providing a good service to them without the overburden cost to the county," Puckett added. "That's my only statement. I'm not saying I'm for or against the levy, I just want to say I want to work with the schools as much as possible and usually we don't have that chance to have a voice when the levy comes through."

County Commission President Bill Archer said the Legislature decided that school levies should be on regular election ballots when they come up for renewal.

Before this change, school levy votes were conducted at "oddball" times that did not coincide with regular elections.

The county commission tabled the school system's ballot request until its next meeting.

Contact Greg Jordan at gjordan@bdtonline.com