School tax hike approved 3-2

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Vote after much discussion

By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE – Property owners in Bullitt County will be paying a little more in taxes this year.

By a 3-2 vote, the Bullitt County Public School Board opted to increase taxes 4 percent. The rate would increase from the current 59.6 cents per $100 of assessed value to 61.8 cents.

A person having a $100,000 home would see his tax increase by $22.

Ninty minutes of spirited discussion culminated with board members Dolores Ashby and Lorraine McLaughlin voting in favor of the tax increase and Roger Hayes and Darrell Coleman in opposition. Board chairman Tim Wiseheart was placed in a familiar position – having to break a tie. He voted in favor of the increase.

Finance director Denise Smith said over the past five years, the district had lost over $22 million in state funding – based on actual decreases and based on 2008 figures which have not met with the rate of inflation.

During that time, superintendent Keith Davis estimated the district had been able to recover about $5 million through the annual opportunity to raise tax rates by the 4 percent limit.

In looking at other districts, Bullitt County’s new tax rate of 61.8 would be lower than Nelson (69 cents), Jefferson (71 cents), Shelby (72 cents) and Oldham (73.4 cents). Rates in Shelby and Oldham are proposed and notapproved as of yet.

With the new tax rate, the district would generate an additional $1.5 million in revenue.

Those funds would be used to provide a proposed 1.5 percent pay increase next school year and money for the career and college ready programs.


Residents speak

Beth Vachon, a retired educator who continues to serve as a substitute teacher, said it was important to adopt the tax rate.

“I know it is not popular,” said Vachon, who was a vocal opponent earlier this year when funding issues caused board members to rethink funding formulas for long-term substitutes.

While not popular, Vachon said continued funding for the district is very important.

She has seen the strides the district has made in providing up-to-date, quality facilities. Having a nice, modern school is important, especially for staff morale.

Besides the renovations and new construction projects, Vachon said she also knows teacher salaries are important. She also understands why teachers go to Jefferson County due to the difference in pay.

“We’ve lost a lot of really good people,” said Vachon.

She said being a leader is tough and making tough decisions is part of that role.

“I don’t feel we really have a choice if we want to continue moving forward,” said Vachon.

Another retired educator, Gwinn Hahn, agreed that tax increases were not popular with anyone.

“I support the tax increase,” said Hahn. “We need to do it for our children.”

However, Dale Lloyd was on the other side of the coin.

The 20-year resident said that 4 percent increase compounds every year.

Plus, he said the school system has a tax on all his bills.

While the taxes keep going up, his income doesn’t.


Board reaction

Ashby said that most of the discussion on the tax rate centered on money.

“Is it really about money?” asked Ashby.

Ashby said as a property owner she didn’t like to pay taxes but the children should not suffer.

If Frankfort is not going to provide the funding to educate students, Ashby said it is the district’s responsibility.

She said the future of today’s youth is more important than the $22 a year in additional taxes.

       McLaughlin said the district could have smart or stupid. She was sure that it would cost money to make sure smart was what the district produced.

       Wiseheart said the goal is to keep the quality teachers and administrators in the district. But he understood if they left.

       While he hates to pay taxes, Wiseheart said there is a bigger factor in his decision.

       “I love these kids more than I hate paying taxes,” said the board chair. “It costs too much not to educate them.”

       If the state is not going to stand up and fund education, Wiseheart said Bullitt County would.

“They’re our kids,” said Wiseheart.

       Coleman understands all the talk about improvements being made in the classroom over the past few years. But, in at least one area, he is not seeing the progress.

       “When are you going to stop taxing?” is a common question Coleman said he is asked by the public.

       He understands the need for more revenue but his biggest concern is that if the state continues its lack of funding, there is no tax hike possible that would fund what is needed.

       His answer was that cuts are possible and they need to be considered. If the revenue is not there for pay increases, Coleman said they should not be given.

       Coleman echoed the sentiments about Frankfort not doing its part to fund education in the state. 

       He said the district couldn’t provide every unfunded mandate from the state Department of Education. If the funds are not provided, Coleman said there is no way the district would ever be able to raise taxes enough to pay for everything.

The board member believes the state wants the local districts to pay for all the services. But he said that couldn’t happen.

Hayes, a retired educator, said that no matter the tax rate approved, the district would continue to provide a quality education.

Like Coleman, Hayes believes there is fluff which can be cut and the belt needs to be tightened a couple of notches.

“We’re going to find a way to educate our kids,” said Hayes, who pointed out several administrators in the audience who are products of the local system.

Instead of taking the 4 percent increase, Hayes felt it was time to look at cuts and to give people a break.

“There’s always another notch in the belt to tighten,” said Hayes.

While some may be able to take another 4 percent hike, Hayes said some people in the county couldn’t afford another financial shot.

A bone of contention resulted from a board meeting last year when the tax increase was mentioned. Hayes said he remembered that the board proposed a cost of living index increase for employees, which would be around 1.7 percent. 

However, superintendent Keith Davis said think that was mentioned in the presentation.

Hayes said he was embarrassed that the district only offered a 1 percent pay increase this year.

He also questioned the contingency fund, which Davis said was about 2.2 percent. If that dropped below 2 percent, the state could come in an operate the financial affairs of the county, said Davis.

Davis said that he wants to give salary increases annually because the employees deserve it but also to help retain them.

While the tax presentation listed a 1.5 percent pay hike next year, Davis said that is only a proposal.

The district is well behind Jefferson County in terms of pay; however, statewide, Davis said Bullitt County is in the top 10 in salaries offered.

Davis said the focus needs to be on educating youngsters. For the $1.83 a month average on a $100,000 home, that goes to help educate 13,000 students every day.