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Brooke County Commissioners retool excess levies

WELLSBURG — On Tuesday, the Brooke County Commission announced plans to retool levies supporting emergency and other services, with voters expected to decide their fate in the Nov. 8 general election.

Commission President A.J. Thomas said levies supporting the county’s 911 call center, fire departments, ambulance service and other county agencies won’t expire until June 2025, but he and the other commissioners felt it was time to revisit the allocations made through them.

The commissioners said there will be no changes to the fire levy, which currently generates $44,795 per year for the paid Weirton Fire Department and each of 10 volunteer fire departments serving the county.

But they announced the 911 levy will be replaced with a levy supporting the emergency call center and the county’s ambulance service, which will be removed from a long-time excess levy supporting several county agencies.

The new emergency services levy has been designed to generate about $900,000 for the ambulance service, about triple the amount received through the current levy, while it’s expected to provide about $570,000 for the 911 center.

The latter amount is about the same as that provided through a four-year levy for the center introduced by the commission and approved by voters in 2018 and designed to expire at the same time as the other five-year levies.

County Commissioner Stacey Wise said the increase for the ambulance service is intended to support its general operations and eliminate the need for the commission to provide other county funds for wages for its director and deputy director and the maintenance and replacement of its equipment.

Wise said funds from the proposed new levy won’t be used to build a new, central ambulance station because the commission already has set aside funds for that project.

The commission has hired Thrasher Engineering for $105,700 to design the station on a small lot near the intersection of Pleasant Avenue and state Route 2 north of Wellsburg.

Wise said pending core samples being taken from the site, plans call for the building to be completed within the next two years.

The commissioners said in addition to moving the ambulance service into a separate levy with the 911 center, they have cut about $25,000 from its allocation for courthouse improvements and eliminated Healthways, a local provider of mental health services that has operated the Brooke County Opportunity Center.

They said levy funds for courthouse improvements have been used to provide local matches for state grants used for new boilers and other improvements to the existing courthouse, with none going to the judicial annex currently under construction.

The commissioners said Healthways was removed because it’s a private entity and it may not be appropriate for it to be included in the levy.

With the two cuts, the commissioners expect to allocate more funds for other departments and agencies included in the ambulance excess levy.

In addition to Healthways and the ambulance service, the current ambulance excess levy generates $1,060,490 per year, which is divided in varying amounts among the following entities: the Mary H. Weir Public Library, Brooke County Public Library and its Follansbee branch, Brooke County Senior Programs, including the senior center; the county’s health department, Brooke County Parks and Recreation Commission, which oversees Brooke Hills Park; West Virginia University Extension Service and the Brooke County Historical Museum and Culture Center.

Wise said all levy money must be used for the purpose to which it was allocated on the ballots.

“Every dime goes to the agencies. It doesn’t go to the commission to use as we wish,” she said.

Following the meeting, Wise said there are no plans to change the current levy rates but acknowledged taxes paid through the levies are based on the assessed values of property owned by the county’s taxpayers, which have changed over the years.

The county’s levy rate for Class II property, which includes residential property and farmland used for farming, is 5.94 cents per $100 of assessed property; while its levy rate for both Class III and IV property is 11.88 cents per $100 of assessed property.

Class III property includes all real and personal property outside a municipality not included in Class II, and Class IV property includes all real and personal property within a municipality not included in Class II.

Class I property includes crops and livestock while in the possession of farm owners and notes, bonds, bills and accounts receivable, stocks and any other intangible personal property that was declared tax-exempt by the state some years ago.

The commissioners recently expressed concerns about Amendment 2, a proposed amendment to the West Virginia Constitution set also to appear on ballots on Nov. 8.

If approved, it will allow state legislators to eliminate a tax on equipment and vehicles within a business’ inventory and property tax for vehicles owned by anyone.

Supporters have said it would encourage economic development. But the Brooke County Commission and other county officials have questioned how the state will make up for the lost revenue.

Thomas estimated the county will lose at least $11.2 million if both the inventory tax and tax on vehicles are eliminated.

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