Board approves tax hike

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4 percent increase passed by vote 3-2

By Charlie VanLeuven


The Casey County Board of Education narrowly approved a 4 percent increase in tax revenue Sept. 6 in a 3-2 vote.

Board members in favor of the increase cited decreasing state and federal funding, along with needed security and technology upgrades for the district, while those opposed said the increase would hurt those on fixed incomes.

Voting for the increase were Chairman Michael Turner, Vice Chair Marilyn Coffey, and board member Vernon Clark. Board members Melissa Richards and Joey Tucker were opposed.

Prior to public comment on the matter, Superintendent Marion Sowders reviewed financial data showed the state and federal governments would send the district over $200,000 less in fiscal year 2019 than in 2018. Cuts in funding include $20,000 for Project Lead the Way, $44,500 for quality improvement, $60,000 from a 21st Century grant for Casey County Middle School, and $16,730 for professional development.

Sowders added that the state only pays for half a day of the district’s all-day kindergarten classes.

“The other half of that cost is a general fund expense,” he said.

The board also reviewed programs under threat of budget cuts if an increase weren’t passed, like academic teams, athletics, preschool and band. Sowders said they are all worthwhile.

“I continually look at them as investments in our students,” he said.

Turning to comparisons to bordering counties, Sowders said Casey collected the smallest amount in taxes. Prior to the Sept. 6 approved increase to 48.7 cents per $100 of assessed property and personal property, Casey collected 47.3 cents for fiscal year 2018.

Russell County collected 52.2 cents, Pulaski 54.1 cents, Adair 54 cents, Lincoln 53.5 cents, and Boyle 70.4 cents.

Also, out of the seven surrounding counties only Casey, Adair and Lincoln do collect a recallable nickel.

“We’re the lowest one around in what we generate,” Assistant Superintendent Kevin Stephens said. He added that the district at times loses good employees and teachers to surrounding districts.

The increase of 4 percent raises $174,759 for the district compared to the previous year. A compensating rate increase would have raised $73,072, while a prior year rate increase would have raised $85,735.

Sowders said the 4 percent increase would add $7 more in taxes to a property worth $50,000—or $14 more to a property worth $100,000.

The priorities for spending increases would focus on security and technology. He said the district could use a second school resource officer (SEE STORY BELOW), and additional entryway security measures at Liberty Elementary School, Casey County Middle School, and the Vo-Tech building.

Stephens estimated the entryway security (which would include additional doors) to cost $8 to $10,000 at Liberty, and approximately $16,000 at the middle school and vo-tech.

“I think that’s something we should seriously look at,” Clark said in support of the upgrades.

Coffey, in a statement to the press, said she wanted it clear that the 4 percent increase is not a four-percent tax hike for each individual property owner. It is a hike of budgeted tax revenue.

She said over the past 11 years, the district has taken the 4 percent increase six times. The district took the prior year rate three times and the compensating rate two times.

If the district had taken the 4 percent in those five years, it would have raised $2 million in extra funds.

Public comment in favor of the increases came from Casey County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Chad Weddle, Casey County Middle School Principal Jeff Emerson, and Casey County Athletic Director Steve Stonebraker.

Stonebraker, in his public comments, said the school district is receiving a lot of “positive buzz” about its academics, as well as its athletics. He thanked the board for supporting the growth in athletics, and said 38 percent of the student body at Casey County High School was involved in some form of athletics.

Those who participate have better attendance than those who don’t, Stonebraker explained, and that equals more money to the district.

Coffey moved to accept the 4 percent increase. Clark seconded the motion and it was approved 3-2.

In comments about their opposition, Tucker and Richards said they didn’t feel it was the right time to ask residents for more money.

“It’s just tough, for especially those on a fixed income,” Tucker said. “In a poorer county like Casey County, it overextends their paychecks.”

He said some residents are living on Social Security checks from $600 to $900 per month.

Richards said many residents require assistance with necessities like heating their homes in winter. An increase, of even $14 a year, could present a big problem to residents.

“It breaks the budget that’s already bent,” she said.