Harrison Co. sets tax hearing for Friday, expects to vote for rate to boost revenue by 4 percent; superintendent says district's ranking of 134th in tax rates "handcuffs" district on the revenue coming in

Cynthiana Democrat, Aug. 31, 2017

School tax hearing is Friday

By David Stone

Harrison County education officials will make their case Friday for an up to 4 percent increase in tax revenue.

The Harrison County Board of Education will host a public hearing on the tax rate proposal at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1 at the Administration Building.

“We are in a district where we’re not growing in revenue,” Harrison County Schools Superintendent Andy Dotson said. “We aren’t a poor district ... We’re stuck in the middle. We are not growing.”

If approved, the tax increase would generate $4.75 million, an increase of $372,551 above 2016-17 fiscal year revenue, according to the public hearing advertisement placed by the school system in the Aug. 24 edition of The Cynthiana Democrat.

The additional money is needed to fund salaries, a bus purchase and other transportation costs, and building and maintenance, school system officials said.

According to the ad, the allocations of the increased revenue include $9,314 for collections, $21,981 for the Building Fund, $220,000 for instruction, $107,000 for transportation, and $14,256 for maintenance.

The tax rate would be increased from the 2017 rate of 49 cents on real and personal property to 50.5 cents.

The school board also can consider an increase resulting in the same amount of revenue generated last school year. The compensating rate is 48.5 cents for both real and personal property, and would produce about $4.57 million.

State Support Education Excellence in Kentucky, or SEEK funding, also is stagnant, Dotson said. According to a state Department of Education forecast for 2018, Harrison County is expected to receive about $9.9 million in SEEK funding, which is down slightly from $10 million during the 2016- 17 fiscal year.

“We’re just not growing, population wise,” Dotson said. Harrison County education officials have increased tax rates over the last 10 years, but the moves were necessary, Dotson said.

“We did a 4 percent increase last year,” Harrison County Schools Finance Director Julie Asher said. “Over the last 10 years, we have taken the compensating rate about one-third of the time.” For a Harrison County property owner with a home assessed at $100,000, the proposed increase will be about $15.

According to an information sheet provided by education officials, school taxes on a home valued at $100,000 have increased $116 over the last 17 years, for an average of $6.82 a year.

“Harrison County ranks 134th in the state in tax rates out of 173 school districts,” Dotson said. “When you’re at 134, it handcuffs you on the revenue coming in.” Harrison County’s current 49-cent rate was below surrounding and nearby districts, Dotson said. According to the information sheet, Harrison County was below Scott, Grant, Pendleton, Bourbon, Robertson, Fayette, Paris and Augusta districts, but was above the rates in Bracken and Nicholas counties.

Staffing costs have taken hits from insurance increases and development, Dotson said. And while no building projects are on the books, the school buildings are old.

“Six out of seven of our buildings are at least 50 years old,” Harrison County Assistant Superintendent David Case said. “The middle school is our baby at 40 years old.”

The administration, transportation and Area Technology Center buildings also are older structures, Case said.

The state funds 62 percent of the Harrison County transportation budget, Dotson said. A new bus would be purchased with the additional revenue.

Five buses were purchased through a special state bond issue program about three years ago, but the fleet is aging. According to Case, there are 38 bus routes operated.

“We really need to buy three buses a year, but we just can’t do that,” Asher said. According to the information sheet, the local cost of transportation is $592,238, and the county is in the top 10 in the state for number of miles covered.

Action on the increase could come following the public hearing or at a later date, Dotson said.

“To us, at the end of the day, you hope people will see the value of what we’re doing,” Dotson said. “We respect people’s thoughts and feelings in moving forward.”

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