The upcoming special election on the new, and some say improved 5-year school levy, seems to be the hot topic of the day.
Most everyone would agree, the education of our students is very important, even critical. This levy purports to upgrade and improve the county instructional programs with an additional $3M, along with earmarking $1.4M towards additional service personnel employment. In addition, the levy has increased in total by $6M during this voting cycle. According to the well-paid Superintendent (more on that later), there will be NO increase in taxes, with the exception of NEW BUSINESSES! That's simply an unacceptable piece of a puzzle to date in this columnist's opinion. What if we have a recession?
Businesses in the State of West Virginia already shoulder a high economic burden with the present tax structure, and this will only further dampen and kill any incentive in locating a new business to Mercer County, along with jeopardizing any potential new jobs! Furthermore, the construction of new schools and consolidations should have led to energy efficiency and reduced staffing levels. Where are the reports of the expenditure run rates for these new consolidated schools? Voters may want to scrutinize these financials in order to be better informed. I see no possible way new businesses provide an additional $6M to fund this increase for 5 years. Mercer County needs to provide incentives for new business and established cornerstone businesses in their area, not disenfranchise them! They provide jobs, which in turn lures workers and potential families into the area, increasing the pool for tax revenue.
At some point, county officials who have already acknowledged a declining population, need to consider the impact on an aging citizenry as well. Many of the county's seniors are living on fixed incomes or getting by on their savings and need to have revised school tax exemptions in place, thus easing their burden. The attractiveness of remaining in Mercer County might well be impacted for many seniors looking for relief in this area. Assistance and alleviation would help them with rising medical costs that seem to increase with age-related illnesses and other expenses which cut into their fixed incomes.
Perhaps a school registration tax for families with children in Mercer County should be looked at, whether they own homes or just rent. To that end, landlords should share in the burden, whether or not they have one tenant or dozens. Most pay a fixed amount, no matter the number of tenants, and should have a vested interest in supporting the educational system. After all, these present students might want to work and live in Mercer County upon completing their education, utilizing their properties in the future.
Let's circle back around to the well-paid Superintendent now, and obviously a very intelligent one at that. By waiting until the eleventh hour, there's simply not enough time to consider alternative solutions, and it would seem little communication between school officials and the county previously occurred concerning this issue. Then again, perhaps this was the plan all along? The best scenario would have been early and open informative discussions to help Mercer County officials plan and budget for this. One last thing about compensation and expenses... the Superintendent's contract calls for approximately $200K in salary and benefits in 2019, increasing to approximately $280K in the final year of the agreement! Any way you slice it, that's a 40% increase, and throwing in 54 potential leave days per year... well one could say, that's a pretty good gig if you can get it. Personally, working for 28 years before retiring from one of the 10 largest public utilities in the country as a Finance, Budget and Rates VP, I never would have dreamed this position would pay what it does. Methinks some renegotiated reductions might be in order to help the county.
In closing, I am not against effectively educating our students with the best possible alternatives, however, this process has been woefully lacking in the past and present. Hopefully, the future will be better. Just because you present some alternative thinking, does NOT mean you are against the children and school system of our little county.