HAZARD—Property tax rates in the Perry County school district have officially increased for this year after a special called board meeting was held Thursday morning and a 3-1 vote was taken on the issue.
Last month, the Herald reported the county school board voted in favor of what is called the “4 percent increase” for the property taxes for the coming year. This would bring the property tax rate up from 48.2 cents per $100,000 of property to 50.2 cents.
The Kentucky Department of Education gives districts three options to choose from concerning tax rates: keeping the same tax rate as the previous year, regardless of its effect on revenue; choosing the compensating rate, which will ensure the district receives the same amount in revenue as the previous year and sets the tax rate accordingly; or taking the 4 percent increase, which allows the district to take in 4 percent more revenue than it did the previous year and sets the tax rate accordingly.
In the past, the board has almost exclusively voted for the 4 percent increase, said Jody Maggard, financial officer for the district.
“This goes back to 2007 and 2008 staying with the 4 percent, with the exception of 2011-2012 at which time we took the compensating rate,” he said.
The board held a public hearing before taking the final vote, at which former school board member Donnie Spencer voiced his concerns and opposition of the proposed tax rate increase.
“I’d like to ask the board to reconsider the 4 percent increase, and nobody wants the school to be funded more than I do,” Spencer said. “This county’s in a recession still. A lot of people are having trouble paying their taxes, as you know.”
Superintendent Jonathan Jett, who was at a superintendents’ summit in Frankfort and was sitting in on the board meeting via video chat, explained that while no one likes to even speak of raising taxes, this decision would benefit the school district and in turn benefit the community. The district’s facilities planning committee voted earlier this year to begin construction on two new facilities in the district, a new school for Chavies Elementary, and a new school to consolidate Big Creek, Willard, and A. B. Combs schools, as soon as funds and property were acquired.
“Based on the bonded money we have right now, we’re probably going to be between $1 (million) and $2.5 million short when you look at acquiring property,” Jett said. “If we set aside a penny of the increase for school construction, that has the potential to bond somewhere between $1.7 (million) and $2.9 million over the next two years.”
Jett said this would make it possible for the district to start construction on both schools at the same time.
“As superintendent I think it’s my job to encourage the board to take whatever steps necessary in order to get our students new facilities,” he added.
Spencer said he could still not support the vote even though it would help bring in extra revenue because he thought the board could find funds elsewhere in the district by cutting costs.
“The problem I have with it is when I was on the board, election was going on. I remember one month John Paul (Amis) hired 28 people in one month right before the election. To my knowledge, them 28 people are still working. That costs $1 million a year, at least, and my interpretation of that was he was hiring for the election, I mean, you know how it works,” Spencer addressed the board.
Spencer went on to say that he thought, since the board had previously been told by an auditor that the district was overstaffed, that the board should implement a hiring freeze in order to let any employees causing overstaffing retire.
“Then I wouldn’t object, I wouldn’t object to it at all,” he said.
Maggard said he was almost positive the district was in no way overstaffed at this time.
“I think it’s safe to say that we’re as close to the board-approved allocations as we have ever been, from Buckhorn to Leatherwood and every school in between,” Maggard said.
After public comments were heard, members of the board made their own statements. Jerry Stacy maintained his dissent for the decision on the 4 percent increase.
“I think I made myself clear the other night. I think we’re just got too may laid off coal miners and too many small businesses struggling to keep their heads above water. That’s the reason I can’t vote for it,” Stacy said.
A motion was made by John Combs, board chairman, to vote in favor of the new tax rate.
“I’m going to vote for those people who still think we need those new schools,” he said. “I’ll be the bad guy and make that motion.”
The board voted 3-1 in favor of the new tax rates; it also voted on motor vehicle tax rates for the year, which have and will continue to remain the same at 49.7 cents.