NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County voters rallied around their schools in Saturday's special election, overwhelmingly passing an excess levy that represents about 16 percent of the school district's budget.
The five-year levy sailed to victory by an unofficial vote of 2,288 to 1,180 - a 66 percent margin of victory that is well over the simple majority needed to pass the ballot measure, according to the Hancock County Clerk's Office.
"I expected us to win," school board President Jerry Durante said, "but I didn't expect us to win this big."
Hancock County Schools Superintendent Sue Smith holds up a T-shirt Saturday, celebrating the renewal of the county's school levy by a 66 percent margin. -- Stephen Huba
The levy won in all 25 precincts in Hancock County but with only a 14.5 percent voter turnout, according to the County Clerk's office.
An exultant Superintendent Suzan Smith thanked the voters for passing the levy, attributing the win to their "dedication" and to "the importance our voters place on education."
"I have to give them a lot of credit that they weren't influenced by the comments and editorials and articles by the paper across the river," said Smith, in an apparent reference to The Review in East Liverpool.
Durante also thanked the voters after a tense night of waiting on election results.
"Without question, these are difficult economic times," Durante said. "But this is my 20th year on the school board, and I have never seen the citizens of Hancock County turn their backs on the children."
Durante, like Smith, also sounded a cautionary note.
"Unfortunately, for the first time, we have had a few groups who have tried to denigrate the importance of education in Hancock County because of their own personal agendas. Fortunately, our citizens put the kids first and didn't pay attention to the naysayers," he said.
Durante declined to elaborate on which groups he was referring to.
The excess levy, which expires in June 2019, generates an estimated $7.1 million toward the school district's annual budget of $43 million.
Levy revenues are used for operating expenses that are not covered by the state's funding formula - things such as capital improvements, instructional materials, technology upgrades, autism services, homebound instruction, physical and occupational therapy, and salary supplements for teachers, service personnel and administrators.
School district officials also want to reallocate a significant portion of the levy revenue to cover the cost of hiring three Prevention Resource Officers for the three elementary schools - Allison Elementary in Chester, New Manchester Elementary and Weirton Elementary, currently under construction.
The tax levy is collected at a rate of 45.90 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of Class 2 property, and 91.80 cents per $100 of assessed valuation of Class 3 and 4 property, according to the West Virginia State Auditor's Office.
The owner of a $75,000 home can expect to pay $206 a year on the excess levy, according to the Hancock County Assessor's Office. Taxes are assessed on 60 percent of the home's market value.
Hancock County Clerk George Foley said the election results will be official after Friday's canvass.