• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

Board of elections certifies school tax ballot: School officials discuss campaign

ATTENDEES AT THE May 9 Woodford Board of Elections meeting that decided the fate of the June 26 school tax ballot seemed to pick seats based on their position in the matter. At the far left in the front row is former schools Superintendent Paul Stahler, while the front row on the right included, from left, Board of Education attorney Kerry Harvey, schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins, Board of Education Member Sherri Springate and supporter Dani Bradley. (Photo by John McGary)

Before a nearly full fiscal courtroom May 9, the Woodford County Board of Elections voted 4 to 0 to approve a ballot for the June 26 special election on the proposed tax hike for a new high school and building renovations.

The ballot reads:

“Are you ‘FOR’ or ‘AGAINST’ the Woodford County Board of Education’s general fund tax levy of 71.9 cents on each $100 of assessed value of both real and personal property, with the additional 5.5 cents to be restricted money to be used for new facility construction and/or major facility renovations?”

Voting yes were Democrat Henry Duncan, Republican Ken Morales, Woodford Deputy Sheriff Ricky Vaught (sitting in for Sheriff Johnny Wilhoit, who recused himself) and County Clerk Sandy Jones.

The emergency meeting was made necessary by the May 11 deadline to have the ballot printed 45 days before the election, Jones said.

Another factor was the May 3 action by the Woodford County Board of Education to correct a January clerical error in which the word “personal” was omitted from the minutes of the meeting.

Shortly before the vote, the audience in the courtroom appeared to have picked their seat according to their position on the issue.

Fourteen people, including anti-tax leader and former schools Superintendent Paul Stahler, sat on one side of the courtroom. On the other side were 14 others, including schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins, Board of Education member Sherri Springate and attorney Kerry Harvey.

The campaign

After the meeting, Hawkins, Springate and Harvey discussed the campaign for a new high school with the Sun, as did Stahler a few minutes later.

Asked about pitches for the new high school that featured a graphic showing how the increase would affect homeowners (“real property”) but nothing about “personal” property, Hawkins and company said there was no intent to deceive.

Hawkins said personal property was harder to use for an example, in part because of the annual depreciation of business equipment and the fact that it’s self-reported.

“When we set out tax rates this year, and it’s based on real and personal property, we usually give the example of a homeowner,” Hawkins said.

Harvey noted that the Sun twice published state-mandated advertisements mentioning both real and personal property rates for the facilities tax increase.

“It’s just kind of a shorthand way to express, ‘Here’s what the tax will cost you if you have a $100,000 house,’ because that’s something that’s … a little more understandable to them than ‘5.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.’ I would have a hard time doing the math in my head on that,” Harvey said.

The next day, Hawkins said the Board of Education had a break-down of funds generated for public schools by local property taxes, which revealed that 89 percent came from real property (real estate). He said while neither he nor school officials brought up the effect of the increase on personal property taxes in public forums and government meetings, they weren’t asked about it, either.

Complicating the equation is that in Kentucky, real property taxes are self-reported, which means that business owners who don’t report taxable inventory won’t be affected by a school tax increase.

Harvey said business owners who’ve been paying taxes on their personal property “presumably see an advertisement (in the Sun) that there’s a proposed nickel tax (5.5 cents) on their personal property taxes. One would assume they would know what that’s about.”

According to a chart from the Woodford Property Valuation Administrator’s office, tangible personal property subject to school taxes includes:

• Business inventory and finished goods

• Non-commercial aircraft and watercraft

• “Goods stored in public warehouses”

Hawkins said distilled spirits stored in the county are subject to school taxes, while notable exemptions include farm equipment and livestock and motor vehicles.

Other concerns

After the May 9 meeting, Stahler said he was glad the ballot question was straightened out, but still wondered about the Board of Education’s incorrect approval of its January minutes and their vote four months later to correct the record.

“I’m not talking about deception or anything else. That’s not my thing to talk about. There was obviously a mistake made, and a serious one …” Stahler said. “It just muddies the water.”

Asked whether he believed the Board of Education was, inadvertently or otherwise, being deceptive by only discussing the tax hike’s impact on home taxes, Stahler said no.

Stahler said his problem with the chart was that it’s not static, “Because when you get reassessed, everything goes up. That was my concern.”

Speaking about confusion over who’ll pay more if the “facilities” tax passes, Stahler said, “It’s just a difficult situation” – a sentiment that might sum up the way people on both sides of the issue feel about the proposal itself.

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