School board keeps tax rate flat, gets earful about ECC

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By Meaghan Downs

The tax rate for the Anderson County school district may be flat again this year, but the district’s overall revenue won’t be.  
The Anderson County Board of Education unanimously voted to maintain a flat tax rate for the fourth year in a row, but because of tax base growth, the district’s tax revenue will actually increase by $129,581 for the upcoming fiscal year.
Last year’s tax rate, at $5.52 for real and personal property per $1,000 assessed value, brought in roughly $7.943 million of tax revenue for the school district.
Thanks in part to a  $22 million increase in assessed property values and Wild Turkey distillery’s expansion, the board’s decision to retain a flat tax rate at $5.52 will increase its overall revenue to $8.072 million for 2012-13.
A compensating rate, at $5.49 per $1,000 assessed value, would have lowered the tax rate by 1 percent, and brought in about $62,000 in additional revenue.
“The increase in the tax base, which I guess has been primarily from Wild Turkey, has been a godsend,” Board of Education President Roger McDowell said. “It’s been a big benefit, especially at a time when not a lot of new business has come to town. In my opinion, that’s the way school funding should work. Your community grows, your tax base grows.”
During the board’s public hearing on Aug. 19, McDowell said the board does not take its duty in setting tax rates lightly.
Because the school board already approved a 1 percent raise, salary step increase and additional retirement benefits for Anderson County teachers in early July, the board now needed to focus on rest of the budget outside of payroll, McDowell said.   
“We’re taxpayers, too,” he said.
“We live in this community, we have neighbors, friends, go to church and work alongside most people in the community here and we know what the economy’s doing. There are a lot of people hurting right now.”
That includes the school board as well, according to board member Jim Sargent.
Sargent cited multiple decreases in state funding for the district, including Support Education Excellence in Kentucky (SEEK) funding that dropped from $4,230 per pupil in 2007 to $3,769 per pupil in 2011. The school district, in total, lost more than $390,000 in SEEK funds for the 2012-2013 school year.
 “So we’re kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place where our revenues from the state are decreasing and our costs are going up” McDowell said, adding that food, fuel and insurance costs continue to climb as state funding decreases. “I think that our superintendent Ms. Mitchell and our administration has done an outstanding job in walking that fine line to maintain service to our students and focusing on the right things, prioritizing.”
A handful of residents raised questions during the public hearing about a potential 4 percent revenue increase, which would have added $17 to tax bills for homeowners with properties valued at $100,000.
“Like everybody is saying, everybody is struggling,” Angie Durr, one of more than a dozen people attending the public hearing, said. “Everyone needs that extra cash in their pocket. Every water bill, every electric bill, every bill we have there’s a little pinch taken.”
Ed Ruggles, who stated he was opposed to an increased tax rate, said he was more upset and disappointed regarding the district’s decision to sell the former Early Childhood Center for $75,000, “pennies on the value.”
“I don’t think that you’ve done a fiduciary concern for the people right in Anderson County who elected you,” Ruggles said to the board.
Board members replied to Ruggles’ and other attendees’ criticisms on the sale, saying it was unlikely the property would have been sold at a higher price or at all if the board waited for more bids than the one they received from the Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg.
Board member Lee Hahn, addressing a criticism about the district’s sealed bid process versus putting the ECC up for public auction, said anyone was welcome to submit sealed bids for the property.
“It didn’t raise as much as we would have liked, but the market for school properties like that is not high,” McDowell said, adding that the board still had expenses on the ECC building totaling more than $80,000 a year. “To tell you the truth, I was tickled to death that we had someone who wanted it who would put it to good use.”
The board voted not to add a 1-cent tax for exonerations, which are typically added to the overall tax rate in an attempt to recover non-collected taxes.
The board of education will also need to approve its final budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year by late September.