No increase on school tax rate

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By Geoff Hamill

At a time when a poor economy is putting a pinch on almost everybody’s budget, higher taxes are the last thing most people need. Recognizing that, the Washington County School Board voted in a special meeting Thursday to keep its tax rate exactly the same as it was last year.

A group of more than 20 citizens attended the meeting, expressing their desire for taxes to not be raised. They gave examples of how people are losing homes and gas prices are making it more and more difficult to make ends meet. One woman pointed out that the people of Washington County need a break, and simply can’t take any more tax increases.

“I love Washington County, but you’re breaking me,” said Louise Reynolds, a local woman at the meeting. “Do something for the people who live here. These people have stayed in this county because they love it. They’ve raised their kids here, and their grandkids here. Give them a break.”

A break was exactly what they got. Board member Nora Niece made the motion to keep the rate the same and not increase it by 4 percent as it could have been without public input. A raise of up to 4 percent is allowed by the state through the Kentucky Department of Education. If the county had accepted that increase, the public hearing, which took place Thursday, would have been required, but the public would not be able to petition it for recall and have it put on the ballot for all voters to decide. The motion was seconded by Margaret Newby, and it passed with a unanimous vote by the board.

In 2007-08, property owners were taxed at a rate of 50.8 cents per $100. According to Ruth Ann Cocanougher, the school systems financial officer, that tax, when 96 percent of taxes are collected in the county, generates $1,937,023 to the school system’s general fund. Cocanougher said 96 percent is a good percentage for a county to collect, and added that no county collects 100 percent of its taxes.

If the 4 percent increase had passed, it would have cost taxpayers another $12 per $100,000 of property owned.

“With the management of Ruth Ann (Cocanougher), Mr. Graves (former superintendent) and now our new superintendent, Mr. Stafford, this school system is in the best shape of any I know,” said board chair Patsy Lester. “That’s why I’m running again for school board. I want to try to get things set up so we can have the best facilities possible. That’s my reason for another term on the board. I have an interest in the people, the community, the students and what’s going to take place in the district in the next 20 years.”

Niece said her reason for making the motion was looking out for the good of the people. Lester agreed, and said people also need to realize with the tax not being increased, that will mean less money available for the general fund of the county that would have been generated through the 4 percent allowed increase as part of the compensating rate.

“I felt like we would have to just say no to some situations and make some cuts,” Lester said. “There probably will have to be some cuts from this, to compensate. We’ll just have to be prepared to do that and say no when the situation arises to say no.”

Both Lester and Niece also said they were not surprised by the turnout at the meeting, which usually is only attended by staff and faculty members.

“I had heard through the grapevine that there were more questions than usual, and following last year’s tax increase, that the peoples’ interest was piqued. Also with the economy now, everybody is concerned about how their dollar is stretched,” Niece said.

Lester added that she was pleased with the turnout, and encouraged the public to attend future meetings so that they could have a better understanding of how the board operates and handles the county’s business.

According to charts produced by Cocanougher for the meeting, Washington County ranks perfectly in the middle of 13 nearby school districts when it comes to tax rates. Washington County Schools are operating for 2008-09 with a budget of approximately $15,000,000.

With the vote to not increase taxes, Cocanougher said next school year will be a time when a lot of work will be required to complete the budget for 2009-10.