Nine months ago, I penned an open letter to the Cabell County Board of Education. I implored the members — Superintendent Ryan Saxe, Mary Neely, Rhonda Smalley, Coy Miller, Alyssa Bond and Joshua Pauley — to listen to the words of the community they supposedly represent and fund the parks and libraries of Cabell County to a budget that would ensure that every Cabell County constituent could continue to enjoy all of the entities and perks that they are rightfully deserved and granted as being citizens of this great county.

 They didn’t listen

In fact, the Board of Education’s proposed levy after a very short delegation with the park and library boards was nothing more than a slap in the face to every single voter who used their voices, their social media, and their community outlets to say “we want to keep our parks and libraries fully funded.” The misinformation campaign that has ensued since their unanimous and deeply condescending vote for Saxe’s levy has flooded — in a dubiously legal move — the emergency text message lines used by the Cabell County school system to alert parents of closures or possible emergencies of the schools and in flyers, social media ads and campaigns ran by the large marketing firm Bulldog Creative Services.

Who is footing the bill of such an elaborate display of panicked campaigning? Certainly not us, the voters of Cabell County, who have already made clear to the tune of 3,100 people in our grassroots Facebook group No Parks, No Libraries, No Levy how we feel about Saxe’s levy, right?  Especially not after a costly legal battle to strip the parks and libraries of their funding by drawing into question decades of constitutionally backed tradition? Why does Saxe’s levy require a PR firm for the first time in the levy’s history? How much has it actually cost the tax payers to defund the libraries and parks against the community’s wishes for Saxe’s unpopular levy

 Questions posed in my last commentary have still never been answered about the budgeting done by the Board of Education. The most glaringly unanswered question continues to be the reasoning behind the $7 million dollar over budget Meadows Elementary project that is still nowhere near completion and draws into question major watershed concerns when a massive multi-million dollar savings was proposed by Del. Sean Hornbuckle, D-Cabell. 

Questions like the Meadows project continue to pile up while information that misrepresents Saxe’s levy is easily and widely spread to voters in a move that reflects the type of answers the Board of Education wants the voters of Cabell County to focus on. Voters who like me didn’t keep up with the day-to-day budgeting done by our fallen from esteem Board of Education nine months ago. 

But luckily I am not the Board of Education; I listen to my fellow constituents, to my community, to my experts regarding the parks and libraries. I was an uninformed Cabell County voter. Now, I am an informed voter thanks to the park board and library board who shared their budgets with full transparency. All of these facts that the Board of Education does not want the voters of Cabell County to see are easily accessible at There are videos by park board representative Josh Keck that have great breakdowns of the cost of Saxe’s levy to the libraries and the parks, and what the loss of equalization money has already cost both institutions.

 So what exactly is the loss of equalization and why is it so important to the budgets of the parks and libraries? Briefly, equalization is the amount of money that becomes the true number off the promised percentages given to entities like the parks and libraries in the levy. In technical terms equalization is a percentage of funds using equitable property tax allocation’s actual excess year to year over the original budgetary estimate

In practical terms, these extra funds create a dynamic budget that increases yearly as seen since 2018 in our current levy. This funding mechanism is used to future-proof increases in costs of operation and inflation. Since equalization is based on property values, there is no increase in percentage taxed on the property owner for the levy. Yet it remains an invaluable funding source as the estimated amount of tax receipts are always under budgeted in order to allow for the actual collections. No government entity should have a flat budget just like no household can operate under a set budget without room for unexpected expenses. Without equalization, every year the parks and libraries will have to combat inflation and increased costs with a stagnant set budget essentially setting them up for failure. 

 The equalization that the parks and libraries have used for their budgets for decades was stripped by the Board of Education two years before the levy we are currently operating under will end. This was a loss of $130,000 to the parks and $370,000 for the libraries in 2024 alone. Keep in mind that this is money that the voters of Cabell County had already approved with the passing of the 2018 levy that the Board of Education, enabled by a controversial West Virginia Supreme Court ruling, somehow circumvented decades of constitutional tradition by retroactively changing. So every time you see a flyer that says “look at how much money we are giving the parks and libraries!” the BOE is completely misrepresenting not only the actual budgets, but the amount of money lost from even this past budget year. The Cabell County Library has an excellent infographic on the exact toll that Saxe’s levy will have on the libraries specifically.

 (Cabell County Library graphic)

Beyond the consideration that the loss of equalization creates a significant loss of the library budget, the current proposed budget on Saxe’s levy for the libraries is a flat $1,373,771 down roughly $400,000 from $1,773,386 with equalization in 2022. Once the equalization payments began to be stripped in 2023, the amount fell for the libraries to $1,644,334 and then even lower in 2024 to $1,471,868 once fully divested

However, both the 2023 and 2024 budgets without equalization are still more than the budget in Saxe’s levy for 2025 despite rising inflation. This does not even take into account the loss of grant funding that requires matched funds for both the parks and the libraries. If Saxe’s levy passes in May, there is a very real possibility that many of the Cabell County library branches will close and the parks will face equally deleterious setbacks. I will not repeat the sentiments of such a terrible future as so profoundly articulated by members of the community better with words than I, but I cannot imagine such a devastating loss to our area. 

 Is there any hope for the parks and libraries of Cabell County? Saxe and his yes-men and women would like you to think it’s with Saxe’s levy in May. But the real hope would be in a failure of this ill-conceived levy; a failure in May does not impact any budget concerns of any teachers, any educational programs, any safety classes, or any insurance as the BOE wishes you to think. If Saxe’s levy is failed, they will rerun the levy in November and any rumblings to the contrary are scare tactics. 

As the current levy does not run out until 2025, there is no immediate impact. Regardless of the levy passing or failing in May or November, the insurance and benefits of educators were secured in a union contract and are being deliberately advertised at risk in a duplicitous move to gaslight voters. Using the levy as propaganda for the most favorable funding of high approval programs related to sports and safety was a choice to make it seem more appealing. The money can be found in the regular Board of Education budget if needed.

So what does a vote no in May actually do? It allows the chance for equalization to go on the ballot in November with three separate ballots for the libraries, parks and the school system. These three ballots allow the community to say who is to receive these important funds. 

Furthermore, it allows the library and park boards to continue to have open discussions with the Board of Education. It is a call to arms to let the deaf members of the Board of Education hear the voters of Cabell County. This is a win-win for everyone; if the BOE is so concerned that they cannot willfully fund the parks and libraries, then why can’t we let the voters decide in November?

No longer uninformed, no longer in the dark about the budgetary mishandling, the voters of this county can signal their desire to keep a fully funded park and library system by voting no in May. A vote yes would end any chance for the parks and libraries to have anything beyond the pitiful and flat budget proposed in Saxe’s levy. I cannot tell you which way to vote, but I can tell you that we stand at a precipice. What happens on May 14 will decide how the Board of Education views the voters that put them in office and how they interpret the wishes of the community that they were elected to represent. As one of those community members who became informed, did the research, checked the facts, and has never voted against a levy before, I know what message I want to send Superintendent Ryan Saxe, Mary Neely, Rhonda Smalley, Coy Miller, Alyssa Bond, and Joshua Pauley on May 14.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *