The Martinsburg City Council on Thursday evening took the first step toward having a special election next year that would allow residents to decide on whether to renew the city’s police levy.
The council voted 6-1 to authorize City Attorney Floyd M. “Kin” Sayre III to prepare an ordinance scheduling the special Saturday election.
City officials have tentatively scheduled the vote for May 11.
If approved by voters, the levy would be renewed for five years. The levy rates would not change, officials said.
The levy rate generates a $63 annual tax bill for the owner of a residential property that is valued at $100,000, officials have said.
The levy funds salaries, insurance, benefits, uniforms, equipment, vehicles and other items incidental for the support to maintain nine police officers for the city’s police department.
Ward 5 Councilman Jason Baker voted against the motion, saying he would prefer the police levy be added to the county’s 2014 primary election ballot to save taxpayer money. The special election is projected to cost about $60,000, city officials said.
Ward 3 Councilman Max Parkinson noted that holding the special election would give the city enough time to hold a second election if the levy was not renewed by voters in the first election.
The levy currently in effect is set to expire June 30, 2014.
In order to remain in effect, the levy requires 60 percent of the votes cast, Sayre said.
After the meeting, Baker said he also favors moving the next regular city election scheduled for 2016 to the county’s primary election that year to save money and improve turnout.
Voter turnout among city residents for Martinsburg’s general election in June was 11.4 percent, according to city records.
In other action:
• Mayor George Karos withdrew his request that Laura Gassler be reappointed to the Martinsburg-Berkeley Count Convention & Visitors Bureau board after being notified that Gassler resigned in order to become the acting director of the tourism promotion agency.
In a memo to City Manager Mark Baldwin Wednesday, Gassler said she still would like to be considered for reappointment to the Convention & Visitors Board should a vacancy remain after a permanent executive director is hired.
“The Board felt that continuity was essential in the interim until a permanent director is hired; this should be in about 60-90 days,” Gassler said.
Gassler, who has been an active member of Main Street Martinsburg, was tapped as interim director in the wake of Andrea Ball’s resignation last week.
• The city council voted 6-1 to give full-time city employees a one-time additional payment of $500 and $250 to part-time employees with six months of completed city service.
Baker, who voted against the measure, said he felt that city employees are deserving of the bonus-like payment, but objected to the proposal given that residents are struggling to pay their taxes and hold onto their homes in a difficult economy.
Baker said the one-time pay adjustment amounted to an additional $98,000 in spending that he felt should be used to benefit all city residents.