• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Board approves facilities tax to build new high school

The Woodford County Board of Education voted 5 to 0 on Jan. 18 to enact a 5.5 cent facilities tax in order to build a new high school. The vote followed a public hearing when several of the 25 or so people attending voiced support for a new high school.

“I’m a product of Woodford County and graduated from the high school,” said former Midway Mayor Tom Bozarth, “and even when I was here, I think the high school was outdated … So I’m in favor of the new high school and I think it’s much-needed for Woodford County.”

Longtime Versailles attorney Ralph Combs said he also supports building a new high school, but he and others in the community have said that they do not see a need to build a new football/soccer stadium and other athletic facilities (baseball and softball parks) when those facilities already exist at the County Park. “We’re solidly behind the school. We’ll do everything that we possibly can to see that school gets built,” he said.

“…Let’s build our new school.”

The board previously agreed to reduce the proposed facilities tax from 6 to 5.5 cents (per $100 of accessed property value) and not build a new football stadium or baseball and softball fields as a part of the high school project. That decision came after objections were raised about building athletic stadiums and fields when those facilities already exist.

“A lot of feedback that came out of those (public forums) was athletic facilities,” said board Vice Chair Debby Edelen. “It became clear to us that people feel that they do want a new school. And that is our primary objective here is a school.”

She noted that the Board of Education already had a lease obligation to use the county-owned Community Stadium for football and soccer games, and listened to those unwilling to pay for new athletic facilities when adequate facilities already exist.

“The reality is the only way that we will get a new high school is with the tax increase,” board member Margie Cleveland said.

Without a facilities tax, board member Karen Brock said children who are now kindergartners would not be students at a new high school – even if that school was built in 2028, which will likely not happen because of other facility needs.

“I’m not excited about paying a tax either,” said Brock, “but if it’s going to improve the schools, then it’s something that needs to happen.”

While M. J. Bakke said he understands the need for building a new high school, the Woodford County resident cautioned those in support of moving forward with a 5.5-cent facilities tax to make that a reality.

“I just want to make sure everybody understands that this tax is never-ending, unless a future school board, who will not probably be these people, takes it off,” said Bakke. “Just remember that. A tax increase has a chance to go on forever. It may not.”

During an interview, Bakke predicted that if this action by the school board to enact a facilities tax garners opposition in a petition, “they’ll get the signers and it won’t pass. That’s a scary thought. And that sets a precedent.”

Woodford County residents have 45 days from the close of last Wednesday’s hearing to form a committee and circulate a petition opposing the property tax. The school board could vote to have a special election to put the tax issue to a public vote if the petition garners a required number of signatures.

Bakke acknowledged that he probably wouldn’t sign a petition opposing the facilities tax because “I don’t think that’s the right way to fly a plane. We put these people in charge. Let them make some good decisions. They’re willing to listen to us.” His biggest issues are the uncertainties of where all the dollars for the high school project will come and how it’s going to be spent.

According to schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins, a new high school will probably cost a little less than $46 million, “but I don’t think we’ll know until we get into the design of it.”

The owner of a home valued at $100,000 will pay an additional $55 a year in school taxes, the owner of a $150,000 home will pay $82.50 more a year, and someone who owns a $200,000 home will pay $110 more a year with the proposed 5.5 cent facilities tax, Hawkins said.

In addition to paying for a new high school, he told those attending last week’s public hearing that the facilities tax will generate dollars for the district to proceed with major renovations to existing school buildings on its facilities plan. The cost of repurposing the current high school building as an alternative school, classroom space for adult education and other uses will be minimal, he said. However, the current high school’s heating and cooling (or HVAC) system will soon need to be replaced and that will be more costly.

With so much discussion in recent weeks about not including sports facilities in the high school project, two residents who spoke during last week’s hearing, urged the board to include an upgraded track and field facility. They were assured that a track facility remains a part of the high school plans.

Another resident raised his concerns about building a football/soccer stadium on the proposed site of a new high school, which is adjacent to the current Woodford County Middle School along Falling Springs Boulevard.

Living less than a mile from the school campus, Jerry Sevier said he and his wife already see the lights and hear the noise from Thursday night football games, as well as from softball games at WCMS.

So while he “totally supports a new high school,” Sevier said, “We have great facilities already (for football and softball),” and argued that the noise generated by Friday night high school football games would negatively affect property values in neighborhoods near the middle and high school campus.

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