Hardin Co. board rejects property tax rate that would generate 4 percent more revenue; COO warns of additional costs coming, but board member says legislature uses school boards "to do their dirty work"

News Enterprise, Elizabethtown, Aug. 30, 2017

HCS keeps tax rate

‘I think we need to live within other folks’ means,’ board chairman says

Property owners within the Hardin County Schools district won’t see a tax rate increase next year.

The school board voted 4-1 Tues­day night to keep the rate at 62.9 cents per $100 of real estate and personal property value. Board chairman Charlie Wise and members Dawn Johnson, Andrea Palmer and Mike Kinney voted in favor of the motion.

“I think we need to live within other folks’ means,” Wise said.

This is the third consecutive year the rate won’t increase. In the past 10 years, the board has voted five times to keep the rate the same.

HCS Chief Operations Officer John Stith estimated the tax rate will generate about $1.5 million in additional revenue. However, the district has seen an increase in property wealth, so funding from the state is going to decrease. He estimated net revenue will be $1.1 to $1.2 million.

The board held a public hearing on the tax rate before the vote and two residents spoke. For the most part, the speakers asked board members about the budgeting process, salaries and the role of pension reform in their decision.

Earlier this month, Stith and Finance Director Jessica Annis talked about the tax rate with board members. The impact of potential changes to the state’s retirement system were discussed. Stith said those changes could cost the district more than $1 million.

On Tuesday, Stith said while district officials don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, they do know past trends.

“If we are not budgeting for that, then something has to give down the road,” Stith said.

The board’s vote was the second of the night. Board member Kay Sharon made a motion to raise the tax rate to 64.4 cents, which would generate 4 percent more in local revenue. It was the maximum increase the board could levy without a recall and would have generated $2.5 million in additional revenue.

Sharon said she didn’t feel like the board had any other option given the potential changes to state’s pension system and other cuts.

She said the state will have to do something about pensions. Ken­tucky is facing a shortfall of at least $33 billion when it comes to the pension system.

“We didn’t create this problem,” Wise said.

Sharon replied, “No, we didn’t, but we are going to have to solve it.”

Kinney seconded her motion to increase the rate.

“The state keeps pushing things down to the local level and making us pay for it,” he said.

Johnson said she didn’t feel comfortable voting for a tax increase when the only justification was potential changes and what might happen.

Johnson, Palmer and Wise voted against Sharon’s motion.

“(It’s) a no-win situation,” Wise said. “Legislatures have figured it out to use the school boards to do their dirty work.”

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