ELIZABETH - A Wirt County operating levy funding employee salaries, building maintenance and supplies and regional jail costs failed to gain the 60 percent majority to pass Tuesday in the general election, leaving officials there in a quandary.
The operating levy captured almost 59 percent, 1,215 votes, of the vote Tuesday. The vote marked the second time this year the levy got a simple majority vote, but failed to hit the required 60 percent.
The levy's passage would generate more than $200,000 a year for the county. Wirt County Commission President Robert Lowe said the bulk of the levy's money goes for employee salaries. The levy's failure would result in a county budget of about $1 million a year to be from 20-25 percent smaller, he said.
The county has less than 6,000 residents, the smallest population in the state.
Commissioners have no choice but to try again, Commissioner Charles Murray said. He's hopeful a special election can be held around February, if not sooner.
"We will have to make our budget in March and we need some kind of indication as what we are going to have," he said.
The county's school levy, which Murray said requires only a simple majority, has been approved by voters for more than 50 years. The operating levy has been in effect for about a decade, before stalling this year.
Murray and Lowe are also frustrated by the requirement for a two-thirds majority to approve such levies.
"We need a major majority, and that's tough," Lowe said. "People have different ideas, and in any group of people you will find some negative, against anything. So right off the top you have people who aren't going to approve anything."
They, along with others, have approached state lawmakers about changing the requirements to a simple majority.
For now, county officials still need 60 percent approval. Murray thinks a third try at the levy will be enough to pass it.
In 2001 county officials faced a similar situation - a $70,000 shortfall -and had to seek assistance from the state to maintain operations, Lowe said .
"They provided us with money," he said. "But it was a one-time deal."
The problem also sparked talk of county consolidation and led to the idea Wirt County would be carved up and absorbed by neighboring counties, including Wood County. Lowe and Murray don't want to consider that possibility.
"I'm not sure how that works and I don't want it to come to that," Murray said.
"We will do the best with whatever the people give us to work with," Lowe said.
A strategy will be discussed at the commission's next meeting on Nov. 20., Lowe said.