To the Citizens of Pocahontas County:
I believe it is important to update our citizens concerning the progress and status of the proposed excess levy that would address many of our facility needs for schools in Pocahontas County.
I think that it is important to first explain how we have gotten to the point of needing an excess levy.
First of all, the “forestry” money that we have received from the federal government for several years has dropped significantly. This money is used for many purposes including paying for service positions – cooks, custodians, aides, bus drivers, and secretaries – which the state does not entirely provide funding for. We currently have to pay for 11 services positions including benefits out of county funds. Therefore, a cut in forestry money means less of our local money is left over after salaries are paid. We are unable to reduce these positions because of the number of students that need physical assistance, the geographical size of our county for transportation purposes, etc.
Next, our buildings are getting older and are in dire need of repair. Furnaces, roofs, sprinkler systems, septic systems, water heaters, etc. are falling into disrepair and must be replaced. It has been asked why the county waited so long to address the facility needs. I cannot give you an answer on that. I do not know how the finances for maintenance were handled prior to this year. I would suggest that decisions were made to spend money on things that, at the time, were more pressing. For example, you don’t repair a roof that is not leaking. You wait until a problem arises and then deal with it. We are making repairs as needed, but now the repairs are becoming more expensive because we are dealing with furnace issues, sewer systems, roofs, etc.
Finally, we do not receive enough state funds to cover all of the costs for substitute teachers and service employee substitutes. Those costs also have to come from local funds. These are just some of the issues that we deal with when trying to keep our buildings operating safely for our students.
For the last few years, it has been apparent that we needed to get extra funds from some source in order to keep everything afloat. An excess levy was proposed a couple of years ago and failed. Many people felt that levy failed because it was hard to understand what the money would be used for. That levy was to help athletic teams, make maintenance repairs, assist the senior citizens, help the libraries, as well as other things.
It was said several times that if the levy had been for our BUILDINGS, it would have passed. When we decided to try and pass a levy this November, it was determined that 100 percnet of the money would go to BUILDINGS and their renovations. That is what this levy will do.
I would like to explain how this process works and where we are in relation to the levy itself.
Back in November 2015, Board of Education president Emery Grimes and I addressed the School Building Authority asking for financial assistance in renovating Green Bank Elementary School and moving Marlinton Elementary School to the current location of Marlinton Middle School. The purpose of the move was to get the students of Marlinton Elementary out of the flood plain. Also, our plan is to move our seventh and eighth grade students from Green Bank and Marlinton Middle School to Pocahontas County High School.
The project for those two schools would cost approximately $18 million.
The School Building Authority was established approximately 30 years ago by the legislature to assist counties in repairing or replacing school buildings. The key word here is assist. The SBA asked us how much money we had currently available for our share of this project cost. I said we had no money available as our local share for this project.
Please understand that there are 55 counties competing for approximately $50 million in funds the SBA has available each year. All other counties that presented projects, and that were awarded money, had local money to put toward their particular project as a matching share.
I was asked how we planned to come up with a share of the project costs. I explained that our plan was to try and get an excess levy passed that would generate money that we could use to pay our local share.
The SBA asked if I thought there was any chance that the levy would be successful and I told them I thought if we were very open and honest with the citizens of Pocahontas County about the needs of our buildings, we could pass the levy.
In early December, I went back to the SBA for “funding day.”
This is the day that all SBA board members nominate a project for consideration. One member of the board was Tom Lang. He nominated a “rural school package.” This was a package for funding seven-to-eight counties that had needs and would not get funded on their own. We were one of the counties in that package.
In my opinion, if we were not in that group of rural counties, we would not have had a chance to receive the funding that we received since we had zero money as a local share of the project costs.
So here we are.
We are trying very hard to convince the citizens of Pocahontas County that this levy is extremely important.
If we pass this levy, the SBA will give us approximately $11.5 million – that we do not have to pay back – toward renovation of Marlinton Middle School and Green Bank.
Our levy would generate the necessary funds for our local share to fund the project. The levy would also generate enough money that we could request additional funding from the SBA to renovate, not move, Pocahontas County High School.
If the SBA would not approve our request for funding for the high school, we would save that money for renovation to the high school – and for no other purpose.
We recently hired an architectural firm to design our buildings. When those designs are completed, we will present them to the public in various public meetings. At that time, we will answer as many questions as possible about the buildings themselves and how our students will be served. We plan to have community meetings late this summer to answer all of the questions people may have.
We have formed a committee of local citizens and educators who will assist in developing those plans.
We are excited to move this process along and my intention is to keep the citizens informed of our plans and progress.
We have already received notice that Cara Rose, Randy Sharp, Karen O’Neil, Jennifer or Brad Dunz, Bob Sheets, Stephanie Burns, Joanna Burt-Kinderman, Joe Walker, Sherry Radcliff, Ron Hall, and I will be among the committee members.
We are adding a few more members, and I will inform you of those names as they commit to serving on the committee.
We held our first meeting May 31.
Please contact any of those committee members with questions or concerns.
The one thing that I want to ask of all of you is to keep an open mind.
Don’t close your mind to passing this levy until you see the plans and have your questions answered.
Questions about increase in your taxes, design of the buildings, timelines for making this move, etc.
The reason we chose to run this levy on the November ballot rather than in May was to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to learn everything possible about this project.
We did not want to be accused of trying to do something devious by rushing the process through. You deserve the opportunity to learn all of the facts before making up your mind.
I hope that you give us a chance to prove to you that this levy is very necessary.