Opposition mounts to Cabell County school excess levy as discussions continue to fund libraries, parks

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The Cabell County Democratic Executive Committee says they plan to go door-to-door to urge residents to vote against a school excess levy this May that would strip funding from local libraries and parks.

Chair Amanda Beach-Burge said the committee held a joint meeting Monday night with members of Cabell County’s Republican Party to shed light on why funding should continue for the Cabell County Public Library and the Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District.

“They benefit our entire community. The parks are super important to our kids play, to adults’ activities, for seniors to get exercise and the libraries are really our city center,” Beach-Burge told MetroNews Tuesday.

The bipartisan effort comes after the state Supreme Court last week reversed a lower court decision and ruled in favor of the Cabell County Board of Education. The ruling gave school board members the power to continue their plan of eliminating nearly $2 million from their budget that has typically gone towards parks and libraries for years.

The park district typically receives approximately $500,000 from the excess levy while libraries receive about $1.5 million.

Voters will decide whether to approve the five-year levy in the May Primary election.

Cabell County Schools Superintendent Dr. Ryan Saxe and other school officials have been meeting with library and parks representatives over the last few days to discuss a potential alternative plan to offer some funding, but not all.

Beach-Burge said they haven’t heard any clear-cut details about ongoing discussions.

“There’s just no real path forward and I don’t think there will be a compromise that allows the parks and libraries to really come together,” she said.

A spokesperson from Cabell County Schools released the following statement to MetroNews Monday morning on behalf of Saxe, Cabell County Public Library Executive Director Breana Bowen and GHPRD Executive Director Kathy McKenna:

“Representatives from the Cabell County Public Library, Greater Huntington Park & Recreation District, and Cabell County Schools met today to discuss the 2025 Excess Levy. All three organizations are taking information back to their respective leadership teams to work on proposals to be discussed again next week. More information will be shared if we are able to finalize any possible agreement.”

Saxe previously told MetroNews the cuts are necessary due to financial pressure caused by inflation, a lack of additional funding from the COVID pandemic and low student enrollment.

“While we very much value and appreciate what it is that our beautiful parks and wonderful libraries provide to the community, doing so at the expense of the school district’s budget is something that we have to be able to prioritize our students and our classrooms first,” Saxe said in an Aug. 2023 interview.

Beach-Burge claims the school district has poor spending habits.

“There has been a lot of spending from the Board of Education, a lot of new projects and a lot of projects that go way over budget. We feel as if the money has been mismanaged from the board’s side, but it should not be a problem of the entire community,” she said.

The levy has provided funding to the library system since 1967 and parks district since 1983.

Beach-Burge said they fear a loss of funding will result in a loss of library branches and park programs. She said there’s a number of students in the county who rely on public libraries for internet access.

“Only 70 percent have access to the internet. That means that 30 percent of the county is without it. We can’t have libraries closing down with these kids that have iPads,” she said.

The school board voted to strip the funding in Aug. 2023. The park district then filed a lawsuit against the school board. In November, a Cabell County Circuit Court judge ruled in favor of parks and libraries which resulted in the BOE appealing that decision to the state Supreme Court.

Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, is also urging voters to turn down the levy.

“The park system is great. In Huntington and Cabell County, people want it. We value our libraries. I think if that’s the choice that people are given, I think the school levy is going to fail overwhelmingly,” he said on last week’s MetroNews “Talkline.”

If the levy fails in May, there will be another chance for the school board to put it up for a vote in November.

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