Board adopts higher property tax rate on 3-2 vote
A property tax rate that will generate 4 percent more revenue for the school district was adopted by the Woodford County Board of Education. Allison Richardson and Sherri Springate voted in opposition to the Sept. 10 motion setting the 2020-21 real and personal property tax rate at 69.8 cents per $100 of accessed value. The higher tax rate is projected to generate $130,573.06 in new revenue after collection fees are paid and reductions in state funding, according to information given to the board. Board member Ambrose Wilson IV, who seconded Dani Bradley’s motion to accept the 69.8 cent per $100 rate, asked Superintendent Scott Hawkins to state his recommendation. Hawkins said school districts can always use additional dollars, but he again explained his support for a flat tax rate – the same rate as last year – given what the community and its citizens are facing in the midst of a pandemic. “I want to be sensitive to the folks in our community, so I would continue with that recommendation,” Hawkins said. Wilson explained why he supported a higher tax rate citing public comments, which he said, “were moving to me.” He went on to discuss the unknown costs related to the re-entry of students into schools, including the expense of additional teachers and instructional assistants. Several emails received from the public voiced support for increasing their property tax rate if those dollars are used to pay for the future needs of students and avoid program cuts. The additional revenue will also help pay the unknown costs related to the re-entry of students to in-person school, emails stated. “As a taxpayer,” said Debbie Arbuckle, “I want lower taxes. As a parent, I want the best opportunities for my children. The latter wins out for me, and I hope it does for you too. “The 4 percent option gives my children the chance at the best opportunities.” One email voiced support for adopting the same tax rate. Dan Grubb said his email in support of maintaining a fixed rate may have changed if the public was notified that there was a need for more local dollars to pay costs related to the re-entry of students into schools. He said it appears a tax rate hike was intended to support the construction of a new high school. “I understand the need for a new high school,” he added, “but I would challenge you to find another way to fund this project versus raising taxes on the community at this time.” Springate emphasized the approved budget for 2020-21 was predicated on a flat tax rate, which will still increase revenue, and again questioned board action in late-August to restrict general fund dollars ($350,000 annually for 20 years, a total of $7 million). Those dollars could be unrestricted and used for operational expenses, she said. Hawkins agreed with Bradley’s point that the cost (about $450,000) for five additional teachers and bus monitors was not included in the 2020-21 budget approved by the board in June. The cost of eight new teachers (about $360,000) was also not included, Bradley said. “I have no idea what to expect,” said Hawkins when asked about the additional costs of re-entry. He said that’s why he pleaded with the board not to restrict $350,000 because “we are sitting on money that could be used for those purposes.” The $350,000 restricted by the board this and last year could nearly cover the costs of additional positions necessitated by the COVID and a dual re-entry plan, which gives parents the option of sending their children back to school or keeping them at home for virtual learning, Hawkins said. He noted the additional elementary teaching positions were needed because more parents are choosing to send their children to school for in-person instruction when schools reopen. The board has agreed to follow the recommendation of Gov. Andy Beshear and begin in-person school no earlier than Sept. 28. Prior to the board’s vote approving a tax rate, Richardson described asking parents to pay higher taxes when they’re teaching their children at home as reaching, especially when so many families are experiencing a financial strain due to the pandemic. The board needs to make its operating budget work without taking the higher tax rate, she concluded. The board voted unanimously to maintain the same tax rate (50.9 cents per $100 of accessed value) on motor vehicles, watercraft and aircraft.