ELIZABETH- After the levy failed to get approval from 60 percent of the county's voters, the Wirt County Commission will give the county operating levy another try in February.
Commissioners said they were confident that a second try might get approval if they present the levy to voters as the only issue on the ballot.
On Nov. 6, the operating levy captured almost 59 percent, or 1,215 votes, during the second time this year the levy got a simple majority vote, but failed to obtain the required 60 percent.
Photo by Jeffrey Saulton
During Tuesday’s meeting of the Wirt County Commission, the possibility of a second try for the county’s operating levy was discussed. From left are Wirt County Clerk Suellen Calebaugh, commissioners Bob Gunnoe, Robert Lowe, president, and Charles Murray.
Commissioner Charles Murray said Tuesday since the vote was 41 percent against and 59 in favor he wanted to try again.
"If the vote had gone the other way, 59 percent against, I would be the first to say what do we need to do to prepare to be part of another county," he said. "
County Clerk Suellen Calebaugh contacted the secretary of state's office who said it would send her a timeline of what needs to be done for a special election.
"They did tell me we could have a vote in 80 to 84 days from now which would put it in February," she said.
Commissioners said after that they will set the specific date for the vote.
"We need to have this before we begin work on our budget in March,"said Commissioner Bob Gunnoe.
Commission President Robert Lowe said Wirt County is the only county in the state to have an operating levy and noted the county's voters have supported an excess levy for the school system.
"In the past we have lobbied for a change in the law to allow a levy issue to pass with a simple majority," he said. "One big reason we are in this situation is we have no industry to draw on."
Murray said he agreed the change to a simple majority would be best.
"We've tried to get this changed to a simple majority," he said. "You don't have to get that many votes to be president of the United States."
Murray said the county needs to buy some time in its budget.
"We've been told we'll benefit from the Marcellus Shale drilling," he said. "But the problem is it will take up to two years for it to come in."
Calebaugh said the county has a head start on the process since it can reuse the ballot language from the recent general election. The cost can be held down by using paper ballots rather than the voting machines, she said.
The levy's passage would generate more than $200,000 a year for the county. 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, Lowe said.
According to the 2010 Census, Wirt County has 5,717 residents, the smallest in the state.
If the county levy does fail, the commissioners said they did not know if the county would be absorbed as a whole by a neighboring county or if it would be divided among surrounding counties.
"They (the state) have been talking consolidation for years," Calebaugh said. "But no one knows how that will be accomplished; it hasn't happened before and there is nothing to guide them."