• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Hawkins answers school tax, other questions

Woodford County schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins acknowledged there’s some concern in the community about the district increasing its debt, while answering questions Monday afternoon about a proposed 5.5 cent property tax increase to pay for a new high school.

The question and answer session in the Woodford County High School library was streamed on Facebook Live, with those viewing and attending the session asking questions.

If voters support the facilities tax, Woodford County Public Schools’ bonding/barrowing capability (to finance the cost of building a new high school) will increase, which Hawkins acknowledged will “substantially increase” the district’s debt.

A similar situation happened from 2002 and 2006 when he said the district’s debt tripled ($14 million to about $42 million) with the construction of Woodford County Middle School and renovations of Huntertown and Simmons elementary schools.

“It’s not uncommon when you take on a big project – and a district will take on no larger project than a new high school,” he said.

If voters support a property tax increase when they go to the polls Tuesday, June 26, Hawkins said “conceivably in about three years we could be in a new high school,” in response to another question. He said taxpayers would receive property tax bills with the 5.5 cent (per $100 of assessed value) tax increase in October.

In addition to talking about the proposed 5.5 cent facilities tax (restricted for construction and renovation projects), Hawkins pointed out that the school board chose not to take a property tax rate that would generate 4 percent more revenue, in 2016 and 2017, and (if similar action occurs as recommended) in 2018. As a result, he said the tax rate will be nearly identical to what property owners would have paid with the 4 percent increases if the proposed 5.5 cent facilities tax is implemented.

Hawkins acknowledged during Monday’s Q and A that the cost of a special election has now climbed from an estimated $50,000 to $75,000, which he said was a little surprising. So the board has requested information on the cost of previous elections in Woodford County before paying that amount, he said.

Placing the issue on the November election would require the district to pay for a second property tax billing if voters supported the tax increase, according to Hawkins. “That is $20,000 plus labor,” he said. “We don’t know what the labor cost (for the Woodford County Sheriff’s Office) may be.” He said delaying the election could result in the district paying higher interest rates on the bonds to finance a new high school and a potential increase in construction costs.

In addition to answering questions about the tax and a new high school, Hawkins talked about options to repurpose the existing high school for the district’s alternative school and adult education programs, and its central office. “…one of the most exciting things,” he said, “is that we would have the space available to create an advanced manufacturing pathway for our students.”

The school’s close proximity to local manufacturing facilities would be beneficial to high school students, and also allow the possibility of training for employees of those industries in the evening, he added.

Because questions have surfaced about why the district has a contingency fund of 11.6 percent – not the state minimum of 2 percent –

Hawkins explained why the board has chosen to maintain a higher-than-required rainy day fund. “For us,” he said, “that’s three months operating costs.” Also, he pointed out that a 2 percent contingency would only cover operating expenses for three weeks.

“So we have put ourselves in a strong financial position,” Hawkins said, “to be able to deal with some of the ebbs and flows that come through when the state legislature passes a budget.” He said the district’s contingency allows the board to deal with state budget cuts “without having to negatively impact anything in the classroom.”

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