• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

School board sets higher tax rates

The Woodford County Board of Education voted 3 to 1 Monday to set tax rates at 68.2 cents per $100 of assessed value on real and tangible property. The new tax rates will increase local revenue by 4 percent for the 2018-19 school year.

“That will generate an additional $637,000 in new revenue,” schools Superintendent Scott Hawkins said. The owner of a $181,000 home (about the median home value in Woodford County) will see a $32.40 increase on their tax bill, he added.

Setting tax rates was not on the board’s agenda, but added as an action item during the meeting.

In an email to the Sun Tuesday afternoon, longtime board member Margie Cleveland said her understanding going into the meeting was that the item to set tax rates would be on the agenda “so that the public would be informed and have an opportunity to attend the discussion.

“The fact that this item wasn’t on the agenda was a disappointing oversight by Mr. Hawkins. In my 24 years of service on the School Board I have always tried to be honest and transparent, our meetings are always posted and open to the public,” continued Cleveland, who is not seeking reelection this November. She noted that the board’s action to proceed with approving the new tax rates was legal, but “I believe this item warranted more than a last minute addition.”

In response, Hawkins said he wasn’t certain the tax rate item needed to be on the agenda until board members heard a full explanation from its attorney about what their options were before being asked to take action on setting a tax rate.

“Through the discussion,” said Hawkins, “then it became clear which action they were probably going to take, and then that resulted in us adding that agenda item.”

Prior to a recall election in June when a majority of voters opposed a proposed 5.5 cent facilities tax to pay for a new high school, the board stated its intention to maintain the current tax rate (66.4 cents, plus an additional 5.5 cents if the facilities tax passed).

Maintaining the same rate was not an option after the proposed facilities tax levy failed, board attorney Grant Chenoweth said.

“The (Kentucky) Department of Education (KDE) has decided that isn’t within the board’s discretion,” he told board members on Monday.

“We disagree with that. We disagree with the Department of Education’s interpretation of the statute…” He pointed out the word “shall” in this statute has been determined by KDE to be mandatory and therefore a local school board must take the 4 percent non-recallable rate hike.

“We’re being forced to do it even though it’s within our power to set the (local) tax rate,” Cleveland said.

She recommended board members restrict the additional revenue to the building fund, and they came to a consensus on drafting a resolution stating their intention to do so.

By restricting the $637,000 in tax revenue to make bond (debt) payments, Hawkins said the district will also increase its bonding (borrowing) capacity for future building projects. The district’s bonding capacity has climbed from $17 to $23 million based on current property assessments, he pointed out.

If the board had chosen not to take a 4 percent rate increase, Chenoweth said there’d be more litigation and potentially a second tax billing (at the board’s expense) “just to try to do what we think you have the discretion to do. Our advice is to – on this matter, your community has been through enough of the back and forth… is to just follow what the department has said you’re mandated to do, and not pick another fight with the state at this point.”

If the board chose not to vote on a tax rate, he said 68.2 cents would become the district’s default tax rate, according to an interpretation by the state.

“This comes as quite a shock and a disappointment to all of us that we are now being told by KED we do not have the discretion and we may not set that rate. That we shall set the rate as they have determined,” said board member Sherri Springate.

She and Cleveland, who made the motion, then joined board member Karen Brock in approving the new tax rate of 68.2 cents per $100 of assessed value. Chair Ambrose Wilson voted no and Vice Chair Debby Edelen was absent.

School tax rates will remain unchanged for motor vehicle, aircraft and watercraft (50.9 cents on both), and utilities (3 percent).

Communication

Because the district has not gotten information out “as swiftly as we should have” over the past couple of weeks, Cleveland said the district needs to explore hiring a communications person. Wilson echoed her concern.

“…Most major school districts have that type of person, employee. It’s nothing new. We’re not thinking outside the box here. As a matter of fact, we’re probably behind times,” said Wilson. He suggested Hawkins and his administrative team explore using dollars from unfilled vacancies to pay for an employee responsible for sharing school information with parents and others in the community.

Music teacher

The board approved a new half-time music teacher position because of large enrollments in music classes at Woodford County Middle School. A total of about 240 students signed up for the middle school’s band classes this year, Chief Academic Officer Jimmy Brehm told board members at last week’s planning meeting.

Simmons project

The board approved a bid of $9,200 from Eubank & Steele to install a vestibule window to identify visitors before they are allowed to enter Simmons Elementary School’s office area. The lowest of three bids was below an estimate of $10,000.

Southside walkway cover

The board approved closeout documents for the completion of a walkway cover for the bus circle at Southside Elementary School. The total construction cost of the project, completed by general contractor Churchill McGee, LLC, was $112,155.

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