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A public lesson in school taxes

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By Ben Carlson

Column as I see ’em …
Here’s something most of you (and I suspect at least several members of the school board) don’t know.
By the end of next year, local property tax revenue for the school district will have increased by an estimated $612,000 since 2009, a whopping 9 percent jump at a time most folks are happy to simply avoid getting their hourly wages slashed.
Here’s how: Since 2009, the district’s property tax rate has remained unchanged at $5.52 per $1,000 of assessed value. But thanks to growth in the county’s overall tax base, that rate has generated an additional $190,000 for the school district, with every dime coming at the expense of local taxpayers.
To that amount add $200,000, which is the local tax revenue increase unanimously approved by the school board earlier this year.
Next add $222,000, the amount of tax revenue the school board will receive each year from the new Wild Turkey bottling plant when it’s added to next year’s property tax roll.
Let’s review: $190,000 plus $200,000 plus $222,000 equals $612,000 — a 9 percent revenue increase since 2009.
Pretty simple, right?
No, I’m not some mathematics savant with a secret data trove available only to pesky newspaper columnists. This information is readily available at the local PVA office, should anyone care to dispute these figures.  
I point all of this out for a couple of reasons, not the least of which is that I sincerely doubt any of these figures will be discussed when the school board sets its 2014 tax rate in the coming weeks.
Of the three increases ($190,000, $200,000 and $222,000), the middle one is a real head scratcher. Earlier this year the school board voted unanimously to increase its property tax revenue by $200,000 — the maximum allowed by law without the possibility of being recalled by a public referendum.
When they set and almost certainly raise property tax rates later this summer, board members and administrators will argue that they had to take such a large increase due to cuts in state funding. They’ll argue, too, that it’s the first time since 2009 they’ve raised the tax rate.
It’s true that the school district’s state funding has decreased, but don’t blame that on state government which, according to Gov. Beshear, has fully funded SEEK in recent years. The reason for the cut is based on a dwindling student population, which, according to recent census data, comes at a time when Anderson County’s overall population continues to grow.
Apparently state officials figure that fewer students require fewer dollars, a surprising and somewhat unexpected leap toward common sense coming from that bunch.
It’s true, too, that the board hasn’t raised its tax rate since 2009, but had it not maxed out its revenue increase this year, revenue by the end of next year would still have increased nearly 6 percent — not bad over a five-year span and certainly more than the rate of salary increase for teachers, a fact I’m willing to bet they didn’t know.
They do now, and so do you.

Speaking of not knowing …
Quick: Which of these countywide taxing districts — fire, library, health, fiscal court, schools — actually had an overall property tax revenue decrease between 2009 and 2012?
No, it wasn’t the woebegone health department that now must fear its tax rate could be nixed by the fiscal court.
Surprisingly it is the library, thanks to a momentary lapse into sanity last year when trustees lowered the tax rate from 88 cents to 86 cents.
Since 2009, the library’s overall property tax revenue is down about $6,000. Yes, that’s a drop in the bucket and not nearly enough for a taxing district that continues to pile up cash at a disgusting rate, but I believe in giving credit where credit is due.
Good job, library trustees. Keep up the almost good enough work.
What about the others, you say?
The Extension district is the real champion of taxpayers, easily surpassing the library’s wink at frugality. Since 2009, its property tax revenue is down nearly $23,000.
The fiscal court, thanks to a tax rate increase of nearly 6 percent since 2009, has increased local property tax revenue about $115,000.
The health department is up about $15,000 despite not raising its tax rate during that time.
The fire district (which doesn’t include the city of Lawrenceburg) is up about $70,000 — which will help replace crumbling and badly needed fire halls so find something else to complain about.