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Marshall assessor says growth should yield tax cuts

WHEELING, W.Va. — Marshall County residents may be looking at lower tax rates in light of recent economic growth.

County Assessor Chris Kessler spoke with Board of Education members at Tuesday’s meeting in an effort to convince the district to lower tax rates for the upcoming year.

According to Kessler, the county has $712 million in new tax revenue for the year, with 72 cents of each dollar going to the school district.

“In a four year period, we’ve seen an increase of $1.7 billion in Marshall County. It has to do primarily with the Marcellus gas industry, but public utilities showed a healthy increase, as well as our coal,” Kessler said. “The Board of Education is the main driver of everyone’s tax bill and I think its time we have a meaningful reduction of the excess levy rate.”

Kessler acknowledged the board did decrease the rate by four percent – from 98 to 94 percent – but said that is not enough in light of increases elsewhere.

“We’ve increased 100 percent, so I believe the public sees a disconnect there,” he said.

Several board members requested additional statistics before making their decision on levy rates, to be made at the next board meeting.

Others also discussed the pros and cons of reducing levy rates versus using more funds to pay off the district’s bonds. Kessler said levy rate decreases mean more to residents than paying the bond.

“To the average Joe, a levy decrease is more significant than paying off a bond amount,” he said.

Board President Beth Phillips responded with a comparison of bond payments and levy rates.

“If you pay off the bond amount it goes away and never comes back,” Phillips said. “As for the levy, the more money we take in, the more that goes back to the state, not the county. Many times, we’re taking care of school districts that can’t take care of themselves with the money.”

Vice President Thomas Gilbert said more statistics would be needed to make a decision.

“We’d like to see what the impact of a decrease would be on low, medium and high incomes, more so than the average,” he said. “We need to take someone’s tax bill and dissect it so we as a board can better understand how to get the best bang for the buck.”

According to Superintendent Michael Hince, Tuesday’s presentation was the first the board had heard directly from the assessor’s office in years, and positive relationships are being formed between the two entities. He said a tax levy rate decrease is likely, but the board must first consider student well-being and learning and cited renovations at John Marshall High School and upcoming construction at Glen Dale Elementary as projects that would still need funding.

“The assessor’s office has a main goal of supporting the tax payers and we do as well. However, education and students are always our top priority,” Hince said. “We don’t want to cut too much and sell our educational programs short.”

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