‘No’ Votes Ought To Be Concern

Years ago, when approval of tax levies for public schools required 60 percent of voters to say yes, the $42.2 million bond issue for Ohio County schools would have squeaked through — barely.

Under the new rules, requiring only a simple majority of votes, the bond issue won handily, 4,888-3,154, with 60.7 percent of the vote, according to unofficial returns.

Also on the ballot Tuesday for Wheeling voters was a proposal to increase the salaries paid to the mayor and city council members. It, too, was approved in a 2,655-2,590 vote, also according to unofficial returns.

That was a narrow win. Had just 33 voters said no instead of yes, the pay raise would have gone down to defeat.

Last week, I noted that some Wheeling voters viewed the pay raise issue as a referendum on the current administration and council, even though the new salaries will take effect only after the 2020 municipal election. It’s possible none of the current council nor Mayor Glenn Elliott will collect the higher pay.

In suggesting the referendum angle, I emphasized that drawing conclusions based on the vote could be risky.

Yes, it is — but that slim majority certainly suggests that many Wheeling voters are not satisfied with municipal government. Some undoubtedly used their ballots to register dissatisfaction with Elliott and the current council. Others simply don’t think city officials ought to be paid more. As Vice Mayor Chad Thalman put it, “It is never going to be popular to give politicians a raise.”

Elliott himself was direct: “Some folks may not agree with our direction,” he said.

Perhaps not. The question is, how many of those 2,590 votes against the raise were cast in that spirit? Elliott and council members have reason to be concerned about that.

Back to Ohio County schools: A win is always, well, a win — but school officials should be concerned, too.

Consider that four years ago, voters were asked to renew an “excess” property tax levy to support day-to-day operations of Ohio County schools. As they have done as long as anyone seems to be able to remember, they said yes. The vote was 4,695-1,690, with 73.5 percent in favor.

Five years prior to that, in 2009, the excess levy vote as 2,276-436, with a whopping 83.9 percent in favor.

So, in nine years, support of Ohio County schools by voters has declined by a great deal.

Why? Of course, there always are the property owners who object to paying higher taxes — even a little — for any purpose. I can’t think the percentage of them has increased that much in nine years.

Some voters don’t agree with the plan for improvements and repairs to the schools. I’ve heard various complaints, with the most frequently voiced one regarding the planned new entrance to Wheeling Park High School. Too grandiose, some think.

What about the referendum aspect of the school bond vote? How many voters saw Tuesday’s election as a way of registering disapproval in general of how the school system is run?

Some did, with a few complaining about how the work stoppage by teachers and service personnel was handled earlier this year. Tuesday gave those who didn’t speak out about that while the schools were closed an opportunity to do so through their ballots.

Nearly two in five of those who voted Tuesday making it clear they don’t like something about Ohio County schools is not a signal education officials should take lightly. They need to find out why that nearly 40 percent said no, and do something to restore confidence.

Ditto for Wheeling city officials.

Yes, interpret the election results with care. Not all those voting against the school bond and the city pay hike were registering general disapproval. But some were, and something needs to be done about that.

Myer can be reached via email at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.