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School Board sticks with tax raise

Only one dissenting voice showed up for a public hearing on the McCreary County School District’s proposed four percent tax increase Monday night, McCreary County Property Valuation Administer Bruce Lominac.

Lominac pleaded with the Board to reverse their decision to raise their taxes this year, but his arguments failed to sway the majority of the Board to back off the tax hike.

By law, the Board was obligated to hold a public hearing after voting last month to raise their tax rate to 41.9 cents per $100 of assessed value, an increase of 2.2 cents over the previous year. It was the first tax increase from the District since 2011, and only the second over the past seven years.

Lominac asked the Board to reconsider their increase, noting the drop in overall assessed property values in the county is not likely to change soon, and any tax increase would put an increased burden on taxpayers.

“Every tax increase is going to hurt the people who can’t pay,” Lominac said. “I see people in my office every day who are losing their homes because they can not afford to pay the taxes.”

Lominac also noted the Board was in a unique position due to the laws governing taxes for school districts.

“You cannot back up,” he said. “You can not collect less in taxes than the year before, so any tax increase is going to be there forever.”

Lominac pointed out other counties and school districts can get away with increases on a regular basis since new construction and home sales typically mean the burden of any increase falls on that share of the market – leaving the average home owner unaffected by any increase.

McCreary County, however he stated, has an aging population, which means more people claim homestead exemptions on their homes, and growth is practically nonexistent, meaning the burden of an increase falls on the general population more here.

Acting Superintendent Mike Cash said he understood the concerns, and wished the District didn’t need to raise revenues, but the reality of the aging school bus fleet was a major focus of concern.

Cash stated the added revenue would allow the District to purchase three new busses, in addition to the three already authorized by the Board – a step toward providing consistent and reliable transportation for students.

The fleet is a concern, Cash said, since expenses for repairs and parts for busses over 20 years old, of which the District has several, come out of the General Fund, and not from the state, as is the case with newer busses.

“I can’t help what happened with the last administration,” he said. “I can’t tell you why you only bought four busses in the last eight years. I can say we are now on track to buy four or five new ones every year.”

“We have to be proactive,” he said.

When asked about the projected $900,000 in surplus the District has on hand, Cash said much of that would evaporate with the hiring of additional teachers to fill state-mandated positions that were not considered in the original budget.

He admitted some citizens would complain against the tax increase, but asked how many more would be upset if the District couldn’t provide transportation for students.

Cash also referenced data from the Kentucky Department of Education that showed 113 of 172 Kentucky school districts took the 4 percent increase or higher last year, and nearly 70 percent of all districts did the same over the past six years.

District Finance Consultant Bill Boyd stated the general recommendation from the KDE is to take the four percent increase in order to continue to provide needed services for the District.

“You have to have the funding to provide services,” he said. “If the funding goes down, you will have to cut programs. When you cut programs, you hurt the kids.”

After a lengthy discussion Board Chair Brandon Kidd called for a vote to reaffirm the tax rate.

Board members Roxanne Shook and Nelda Gilreath voted against the increase, while Kidd, Rhonda Armijo and Debbie Gibson were in favor.

The Board also will move their next regular scheduled meeting to October 15, at 6:30 p.m. to accommodate for fall break.

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