Farmer opposes tax hike – not a new high school
Woodford County farmer Wayne Baker says he’s against a proposed property tax increase to pay for a new high school (5.5 cent per $100 of accessed property value) because of the financial burden it would put on taxpayers who are already struggling to pay their bills.
“We’re not against a high school,” said Baker. “… I know people think that we (those of us against a tax hike) probably don’t want the new high school, but that’s not the fact. That’s not the fact at all.”
Nearing 75 years old, Baker said he still farms every day to pay his taxes and insurance “just to hold on ... It’s tough in farming.”
Baker and his wife, Roberta, raise beef cattle on their 250-acre farm in southern Woodford County, he said. And like other farmers, he said their income goes up and down with prices being paid on the commodities market.
“We’ve had to work all of our life to get what we’ve got by the sweat of our brow, and we’ve been really blessed,” said Baker, who held a second job in public works while his wife raised two children working “harder than what I did on the farm.”
During a successful petition drive to get enough signatures to put the facilities tax issue on the ballot, Baker said he talked to people on “a very, very fixed income and they just are barely making it now. …I saw tears in some people’s eyes,” who just don’t know how they’re going to pay a higher tax bill ($55 a year more for someone owning a $100,000 home and $96.25 a year for a $175,000 home). “Even though it may not amount to about $100 a year,” he added, “it’s going to affect people.”
Baker also questioned the board’s rationale for proposing a tax hike so the district can borrow more money to pay for a new high school.
“I feel like we need to pay down our debt before you take on more debt. That’s the way I always looked at things,” said Baker. “It’s easy to go to the well and keep drawing money when it’s not coming out of your pocket so much.”
Woodford County Judge-Executive John Coyle, who has a sign in his yard against the proposed tax hike, said he still remembers elderly residents struggling to pay their property tax bills during his 20 years in the sheriff’s office. “… They would count the money right out to the cent and when you marked that tax bill paid you could just tell that they were relieved,” he said.
That experience has stayed with Coyle and helped remind him that some residents just cannot afford a tax increase.
“I agree we do need a new high school,” he acknowledged. “I would hope and I wish that the school board would pay down their debt (bonds with an outstanding balance of $26.745 million at the end of last fiscal year) as soon as they can and … get enough bonding and funding to build the appropriate high school … for the students” without a facilities tax. Coyle said Woodford Fiscal Court has not raised tax rates during his tenure as judge-executive because of a willingness to “tighten our belts” in order to continue providing necessary services to its residents.
“I just hate to see the tax increase – for a new school – that never goes away,” he explained. If the current school board was able to implement a sunset clause so a 5.5 cent property tax increase “would go away” in 20 or 25 years “that would be fine,” added Coyle. His three granddaughters are students in Woodford County schools and his four grown children graduated from WCHS.