...McCreary Co. board ponders nickel option, superintendent says state of buildings makes it "a question of student safety;" recent fiscal court tax hike a complication...

McCreary Voice, Whitley City, April 20, 2017

Nickel Tax possible

Staff report

The McCreary County Board of Education will be holding a hearing before next week’s regular scheduled meeting to hear public comments on a proposed tax increase on real and personal property.

The hearing, scheduled for 6:00 p.m. next Thursday at the Board Office satisfies a legal requirement for the Board as they are seeking an increase greater than the expected compensating rate – a rate that would keep revenues for the School District at about the same as the previous year.

The “Nickel Tax,” as it is commonly known, would increase real and personal property tax rates from 41.9 cents per $100 of assessed value to 47.7 cents would generate approximately $386,294 in additional revenue for the District.

Of that funding approximately $11,000 would go toward cost of collections, $272,000 to the Building Fund, $95,000 to transportation and $6,000 to maintenance.

While another tax increase so soon on the heels of the McCreary County Fiscal Court voting to increase the Occupational Tax rate isn’t a pleasant thought for most people, the Board’s increase could be subject to a public recall vote.

Should the Board vote to accept the tax, it is subject to a possible public recall vote. If a petition is submitted, with signatures of at least 10 percent of the total voters in the last Presidential Election – about 578 names – to the McCreary County Clerk’s Office within 45 days of the Board’s approval of the tax rate a special election could be warranted.

If enough verified signatures are obtained and the deadlines are met, a special election could be held for a county-wide vote to either approve or reject the tax rate.

Superintendent Mike Cash said it is unfortunate timing that the proposed increase comes so close to the Fiscal Court voting to increase the Occupational Tax rate, but stresses the increase would benefit the students in the District as it would be specifically earmarked toward repairing and improving facilities.

“It is unfortunate with the budget issues our County government is facing,” he said. “But we have a solid budget – we just don’t have the money to fix what we need to fix.”

“None of this is for anyone’s personal gain,” Cash said. “The money is not for paying any salaries or anything like that. The only thing we can use it for is for major repair projects or to pay insurance on the buildings. We will use it for repair.”

By state law, any revenue generate from the nickel tax must be dedicated to the building fund.

Cash stresses there is a bigger potential benefit to the School District if the tax rate is approved.

While revenue would be generated from local taxes, an additional $740,666 in state funding would be available to the District as a result as well, which would greatly increase the bonding potential.

“The State has set up the system where they will provide additional funding, if the School District takes steps on its own to raise additional capital,” he said. “We have to show we will pay what we can and they will contribute nearly three times what we will raise locally.”

“That will allow us to do the things we need to do.”

The “nickel” tax increase would cost property owners about an additional $50 per year on a home assessed at $100,000 in value.

According to Superintendent Cash, there are three immediate needs that stand out for the District.

“We have to repair the roofs at the High School and Pine Knot Primary,” he stated. “They are at the end of their life cycle and we can’t keep patching them up.” He also noted leaks are already starting to develop in the roof of the District’s newest school- Whitley City Elementary, and repair work is planned for it as well with the additional funding.

“We don’t have a choice at this point,” he added. “We have to fix the roofs. It is a question of student safety.”

“We went 10 years where none of our buildings were really touched, and the bottom line is we have to fix our buildings and we don’t have the money lying around to do that without this increase.”

“If we don’t do this, our only option will be to continue to let our buildings deteriorate,” he added.

Additional planned construction for the District includes building an additional wing at the Middle School, additional preschool classroom space and a new Bus Garage.

“We have made a lot of positive strides over the last two years,” Cash said. “Our test scores are higher than they have ever been, we have put in new roofs at the middle school and at Pine Knot Intermediate, and we have initiated a Guaranteed Energy Savings contract that put new lighting and fixtures in our buildings that will save us money every year.”

“The Board has been very proactive in looking at making our District better for the children. They take that responsibility very seriously, and all their decisions have the students at the heart.”

The Board of Education actually lowered property tax rates last year as they voted to accept the compensating rate, which decreased the rate due to a higher overall assessment on property in McCreary County.

Cash noted the McCreary County School District has been historically behind other districts around the state when it comes to raising the tax rates. The Kentucky Department of Education actually recommends districts adopt the 4 percent increase every year to maintain funding levels.

“Even with this proposed increase our tax rates will still be lower than six of the 10 school districts that surround McCreary County,” he said.

The last significant property tax increase from the District came in 2004 when funding was raised to construct a new wing at McCreary Central High School.

Following the public hearing, the Board of Education is expected to vote on the proposed increase at their regular meeting that evening, scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m.

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