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Oldham County residents will soon see their property taxes increase to help the school district cope with a lack of funding from the state and federal government.
The Oldham County School Board passed a four percent increase in the amount of taxes they levy on area property owners 4-1 Thursday night, with board member Walt Schumm as the lone dissenting vote.
“My person opinion is in fiscal year 2014 we can hold the line on taxes,” Schumm said after the vote. “We can reduce our contingency and get by one more year. It would be extremely tight, close to manage, but we could do it.”
School officials say the tax increase will prevent more teacher layoffs, while also sustaining funding for programs across the district. The new tax will cost homeowners with property assessed at $100,000 an additional $45 a year
“I see two options, we raise taxes or we cut programs,” Randy Davis, assistant chief financial officer for the district said to the board before the vote.
Davis said property values have declined by $150 million since January 2009 in the county, leading to a reduction of more than $1 million of revenue for the school district.
Davis said stagnant funding from the state and federal sequester cuts meant the district needs more tax revenue to maintain its current academic status. He reminded the board that the district already cut $3 million in the current budget.
Before taking its vote, the board took public comments for more than an hour. Joe Conrad was one of the first to voice opposition to the tax increase.
“If assessments are failing by $150 million that means citizens of the county are suffering that much,” Conrad said. “I don’t believe we should give a bigger slice of a smaller pie.”
But supporters of the increase pointed to the school district’s lofty rankings in the state, as well as its range and quality of programs as a reason to endure the higher tax.
“If we didn’t have our top ranked school system our values would have plummeted (more),” Steve Estes, a supporter of the increase, said.
Others pointed to the new occupational tax in La Grange as well as increasing school fees in their opposition to the school tax increase.
“Everyone has their hand out, well they should leave me alone,” Brian Oerther, an Oldham County resident said. “You probably lost a resident because of this vote. You come to us every time you need money.”
Oerther said he would support a tax increase if the school district waived all their fees they place on students for books and other services.
This was the first increase the school district had asked for in three years. And district officials pointed out that many surrounding school districts had approved increases recently, while they’ve kept the tax the same.
Board member Larry Dodson said the blame for the tax increase should be pointed at state government, which has not kept up with school funding.
“This all starts in Frankfort,” Dodson said before voting for the increase. “Frankfort talks a good game about education.”
He encouraged residents to contact their state representatives and state senator to get more school funding in the next state budget.
Despite the split public comment on the tax increase, Superintendent Will Wells said after the vote that residents are getting results for their tax money.
“I think our Board of Education has best interest of students as their primary objective and the vote reflects that,” Wells said. “You look at the results you get and you’ll see you’re getting a return on your investment.”
The tax increase will help fund a $2 million hole in the district’s 2014 budget.
Wells said it was too early to predict whether the school district will return to the board for another tax increase for the next budget, but put emphasis on the state to making a decision to better fund education.
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