by Josh Keck

I’ve been asked to provide a recap of everything that had led up to the present day in this funding issue between the GHPRD, CCPL, and BOE. While I’m refraining from speaking about the most recent developments, I do feel like a timeline is perfectly reasonable request to fulfill and it’s something that new members of this group need to be aware if they’re going to make informed decisions. You deserve to know how we got to where we are.

That being said, this is not a neutral, unbiased timeline of events. This is written from my perspective and using my firsthand knowledge as a board member of the GHPRD. And I’m going to insert some commentary along the way that I find important, my own personal thoughts and opinions about what it means to serve the public and to make good fiscal decisions on behalf of the community you serve. They are again my own comments as a concerned citizen, a parent, and someone who believes public service and transparency are extremely important to our society. Please do not mistake my comments as official GHPRD comments. If you want the GHPRD to comment on something, call their office. Thank you.

Commonly used acronyms:

GHPRD – Greater Huntington Park and Recreation District

BOE – Cabell County Board of Education

CCPL – Cabell County Public Library

December, 2022

I am appointed to fill a vacancy on the park board, and I have no idea what I’m about to get involved with! My poor naïve former self. I could begin this timeline further back, as far back as the 1930s, but I’ll assume you’re not here for that kind of history lesson. Let’s jump to:

Feb 24th, 2023

Delegate Daniel Linville originates a bill in the Finance Committee of the WV House of Delegates that sought to repeal the GHPRD’s Special Act of the Legislature that created the funding obligation from the BOE’s Excess Levy. The Finance Committee rejects the bill on the grounds that it would devastate the park district’s budget while making no attempt to restore this funding by alternative funding mechanisms. When questioned about the bill, Linville replies that members of the BOE have privately lamented to him about having to pay the GHPRD out of their excess levy. Several members of the GHPRD drove to Charleston to speak out against the bill after learning about it the day prior.

I recorded the Finance Committee meeting for posterity:

Now… this is important. It must be reasoned that as of Feb 24th, the BOE operated under the knowledge that the Special Act of the Legislature that created this funding mechanism was in fact constitutional and enforceable. Delegate Linville would not have originated this bill had they believed it to be unconstitutional and unenforceable. Furthermore, the legislature also did not consider the Act to be unconstitutional and unenforceable or else they would not have allowed it to be considered for discussion. They also would not have protected the funding by tabling the proposed bill. The House of Delegates has legal counsel who review bills before they’re presented, and they raised no constitutional concerns.

A reasonable person would take all this to mean that the GHPRD Special Act is in full force at this time.

April 2023

In April of 2023, Board of Education officials informed Public Library and Park District officials that, going forward, they would no longer receive the amount required by the Special Acts of the Legislature (which are written as a percentage of all assessed value) but rather that funding for Fiscal Years 2024 and 2025 would be capped at a fixed amount of $1,471,869.00 and $455,229.00 per year, respectively. This violates the percentage language of our Special Act.

In essence, the two entities would not be receiving an “equalization check” from the Board of Education for Fiscal Year 2024 and 2025. Such equalization checks typically are received in August of each year, as a reconciliation check reflecting property taxes collected versus the estimate that was on the ballot in 2018. Inflation from 2018 to 2023 being ~20-25%, this represented an immediate funding loss of ~$100k/year to the GHPRD and ~$300k/year to the CCPL.

This was an alarming letter that caught us by surprise.

This letter signifies that sometime between Feb 24th and the writing of their April letter, the BOE privately make the decision that they no longer must follow the Special Acts of the Legislature. They ignore the Feb 24 decision of the legislature and decide to become their own judge and jury. This is a blatant overstepping of their authority. Rather than come to the GHPRD and CCPL with their legal questions, so that we could sort them out collaboratively and seek a timely judgement in a court of law, the BOE asserts that these laws are suddenly no longer applicable to them and they choose to not honor them. This is absolutely not how one government entity should interact with another, and it arouses heated conversations at the next several board meetings as a result.

June 12th, 2023

A meeting was held between all entities. I did not attend the meeting so I’ll quote directly from the GHPRD executive director’s report:

“A meeting was held on June 12, 2023, with representatives from GHPRD, the Cabell County Library, and legal counsel from both parties. Our counsel, Buck Crews, and the CCPL counsel, Dennis Taylor, are still in discussions to clarify and rectify the misinterpretation of funding. GHPRD has always understood that our levy is in addition to the levies collected by the BOE or other entities. However, according to BOE officials, they have been allocating funds to GHPRD from their own revenue. It is crucial to resolve this issue promptly, as there is concern that if the BOE’s proposed cuts are successful, they may choose not to include us or the library in their next levy. This would result in a loss of over $500,000 in revenue. I have reached out to Delegate Dr. Matt Rohrbach and Senator Bob Plymale to schedule a meeting and discuss these matters, and they have expressed their willingness to meet.”

It is completely fair to suggest that we did not have a full understanding of the levying mechanism when this meeting was held. We were still in the early stage of fact finding, after having been caught completely off guard by the April letter. This topic was starting to consume a large amount of time during our monthly meetings as all board members tried to understand it. A full understanding of the funding mechanism requires a thorough review of the legislative history, including the Tax Limitation Act from the 1930s. Let me just say that it was not a simple topic for unpaid board members who meet once per month to quickly become constitutional experts on. We needed time. Which leads me to:

July 1st, 2023

As the situation became more complicated, I spent many, many hours during May and June researching the issue. I created a 28-minute video discussing my findings. I detail in the video the funding issue and the Special Acts of the Legislature that created this funding mechanism. I’m a firm believer in transparency and this video was simply an effort to inform the public about the situation. It required a lengthy explanation due to its complex nature and long history.


May, June, and July, 2023

Representatives and members of the park and libraries begin attending the BOE’s public meetings to learn more about their decisions and to speak during the public comment period in an attempt to continue a public dialogue. We had been unable to continue a private dialogue as their legal counsel stopped responding to our legal counsels’ emails. Our public comments at these BOE meetings focus on advocating for both the equalization checks and placement on the future levy. Believing that our laws are still in full force, we try to communicate the legal ramifications of their decision and that any belief that our laws are unconstitutional must be tested in the court system. These repeated efforts yield no results and no response from the BOE. Recordings are available on the BOE’s YouTube channel.

During this same time, our boards are meeting regularly once per month and we discuss how to handle this situation in addition to our normal business. On July 20th, the GHPRD Finance Committee held a meeting with our legal counsel, as well as members from the library and their counsel, to discuss recommendations we could make to the full boards regarding working with the BOE on a compromise. We were willing to take a reduction in the equalization checks provided the BOE affirm our placement on the FY 26-30 Excess Levy ballot. Our counsel was going to reach out to the BOE counsel to further the discussion and clarify their intentions moving forward.

However, none of this came to pass because later that very same day:

July 20th, 2023

Superintendent Saxe presents the first reading of the FY 26-30 Excess Levy ballot order to the BOE. This was the first time that the parks, the libraries, and the public had seen the proposed excess levy. It again took us by surprise given that the ballot didn’t need to be approved until March 4th, 2024 – over 7 months ahead of the deadline – for funding that wouldn’t take place until July 1, 2025 – nearly two years from this point. We were surprised to say the least.

Then we saw the numbers.

The proposed ballot removed all funding to the GHPRD, from ~$550k down to $0, and 90% of the funding to the CCPL, from ~$1.7M to ~$200k. These figures were based on the assessed property values at that time, which have since increased.

This was the 3rd BOE meeting I had personally attended and spoke at. Finding that our pleas were falling on deaf ears, and that time to craft a compromise had officially run out, I created an event on Facebook asking concerned community members to attend the August 1st BOE meeting to express their thoughts on this severe defunding. The event was titled Community Rally: Save Our Parks and Libraries. Word of this defunding spread fast and furious. Over 4,000 people were invited on Facebook, with many hundreds RSVP’ing and showing up to the meeting.

August 1st, 2023

The BOE meets to pass the Excess Levy. Hundreds attend and dozens sign up to speak against the BOE’s levy proposal. The BOE passes the levy unanimously after a contentious 4-5 hour meeting. Many of you are here because of this meeting.

Let’s briefly talk about the fact that the levy ballot was approved 7 months before the ballot deadline. It was presented at a time when the BOE was projecting a large budget deficit (~$4M) due partly to the lack of state funding to help offset PEIA increases. Treasurer Drew Rottgen mentions this PEIA funding concern as far back as their May meetings, and it was expected that the legislature would handle this during a special session. In fact, Governor Justice called a special session just days later on August 6th. That session led to allocations of tens of millions of dollars to local school boards to offset the PEIA increases. This should have greatly relieved the pressure on the BOE’s budget deficit. I bring this up because frankly it is a prime example of poor fiscal decision making on behalf of the Treasurer, the Superintendent, and the BOE. The BOE approved this excess levy 7 months before the deadline while knowing that they didn’t have all the relevant financial information needed to make an informed decision. In their inexplicable and extreme rush to push this levy through, they refused to cooperate with the parks and libraries, they refused to wait on the legislature’s answer to the PEIA funding, AND they open themselves up to near-certain legal actions from the GHPRD and CCPL. I find this to be inexcusable, but what’s done is done. That’s not even the worst of it, but I’ll try to stay on topic here.

August 2nd, 2023

In response to the overwhelming public outcry, and at the suggestion of several involved community members, I create a Facebook group titled No Parks, No Libraries, No Levy! Membership grows quickly and is currently stands at 2,771 members. The page is now run by community members and I have relinquished all control.

August 4th, 2023

After researching the taxation landscape further, and researching some of the things that were mentioned at the Aug 1st meeting by Superintendent Saxe, I write a 5-page “Hail Mary” letter requesting the BOE to consider a motion to rescind the FY 26-30 Excess Levy Ballot Order that they had just passed. I include a detailed breakdown of the taxation landscape, contradicting some of Superintendent Saxe’s assertions made at the Aug 1 meeting about our ability to find funding elsewhere, and revealing to the BOE that it is impossible to restore this funding without the BOE’s excess levy capacity. I explain that possible compromises could be discussed were the levy to be rescinded and all parties brought back to the table for an actual collaborative discussion like we had been asking for. This letter was an attempt at avoiding an expensive and drawn-out legal (and political) battle, as I had warned the BOE would happen during my earlier public comments at their meetings. I was informed that the letter would be discussed with the BOE’s legal counsel and then presented to the board. That was the last I heard of it. There was no further action taken on the letter and no motion to rescind was ever considered.

The letter was shared in this group as well, and I believe it was well received. Source:…/permalink/3728846870731200/

August 10th, 2023

I speak to the Cabell County Commission, during public comment, about the funding issue. I alert them that I’m looking at their excess levy capacity and that there may be a need to request an excess levy for our entities. Their unused excess levy capacity is only enough to replace 29% of the funding loss. No formal conversations have been held with the County Commissioners on this topic and they have not offered to help.

September 14th, 2023

Now comes the legal actions.

Nelson Mullins, pro bono legal counsel for the GHPRD and CCPL, file a verified petition in Cabell County for a Writ of Mandamus against the BOE. This is the beginning of official legal action that would continue until the Supreme Court ruling on February 22nd, 2024. Our communications during this time are largely had during executive session and consist of legal process updates. There’s not much we can do at this point.

November 17th, 2023

Oral arguments are heard in the Cabell County Circuit Court and Judge Gregory Howard rules in favor of the park and library. The BOE appeals to the Supreme Court.

February 22nd, 2024

The WV Supreme Court of Appeals hears oral arguments and reverses the decision of the Cabell County Circuit Court. We are still waiting on a written response and so we have no insight as to the deciding factors in the case.

Later this day, the BOE reaches out to the parks and libraries to discuss a possible compromise that would see these entities back on the ballot with a higher funding amount. We have meetings in the following days but cannot reach a mutual agreement in the extremely short amount of time available. Had they rescinded their ballot order back in August, we could have had meaningful and collaborative discussions, but unfortunately once the legal process started, we had to wait for it to finish before we could open up a dialogue.

March 4th, 2024 – present day

BOE holds a meeting to amend the August 1st decision on the FY 26-30 Excess Levy Ballot Order. They restore partial funding to the parks and libraries at a fixed amount per year. On May 14th, 2024, voters will decide the fate of the BOE’s FY 26-30 Excess Levy. The GHPRD and CCPL intend to issue an official response in regard to this.