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Early voting on Berkeley Co. school bond begins

September 07, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- Early voting is under way in the Sept. 26 special election for Berkeley County Schools' $51.5 million taxpayer-financed school construction proposal.

Voters can cast early ballots through Sept. 23 in the Berkeley County Voters Registration office at 110 W. King St., in Martinsburg from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. No voting will take place on Sundays.

On-street parking spaces in the 100 block of West King Street have been made available for early voting. Deputy Clerk Bonnie Woodfall said 48 ballots were cast on Friday, the first day of voting.

The Berkeley County Board of Education voted in July to ask taxpayers to shoulder a little more than half of an estimated $96.5 million in construction and renovation costs for four schools through a bond issue.

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If voters authorize the Berkeley County Board of Education to issue $51.5 million in bonds, the owner of a home with an appraised value of $200,000 would see a net increase of $69.35 on their residential (Class II) property tax bills in 2010, school officials have said.

But the school district also would receive $25 million from the West Virginia School Building Authority (SBA) for a new high school in Spring Mills, W.Va., if the bond is approved.

Despite the depressed economy, the SBA required that the election be held by Nov. 1 and the grant will be forfeited if the bond proposal fails, Berkeley County Schools Superintendent Manny P. Arvon II has said.

The increase proposed is substantially less than the previous school construction bond issue approved in 2001, which cost a homeowner with a $200,000 appraised property $123.84 in the first year, officials have said.

In addition to the $25 million grant for the $53.5 million Spring Mills Area High School, Arvon has said that he expects the SBA would award the school district another $20 million for the other three capital improvement projects that would be financed with the bond proposal. The projects are a new (Mountain Ridge Area) middle school near Gerrardstown, W.Va., ($20 million); a major addition at Musselman High School in Inwood, W.Va., ($7 million); and a major renovation and expansion at Martinsburg North Middle School ($16 million).

The high school project would be the first constructed, possibly beginning in the spring of 2010, officials have said.

School enrollment has grown by 4,138 students from 2001 to 2008 and at least 115 portable classrooms are now in place at schools to accommodate overflow student capacity, officials have said.

None of the bond money, if authorized in September, would be used for land purchases because school officials already own the property for the new high school and middle school, Arvon said.

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