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Jefferson County School Board Votes to Keep Property Tax Rate Unchanged

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Monday night to leave its property tax rate unchanged for the new fiscal year.That means the current rate of 71 cents per $100 of a resident’s assessed property value will not change.  At that rate, a person who owns real estate valued at $100,000 would pay $710 annually in tax.Per state law, a school district’s board of education has the power to raise property taxes by no more than 4 percent of the previous year’s budget revenue.  Had the maximum amount been sought by the school board on Monday night, a $15 million boost in revenue would have been yielded in the 2015 fiscal year, according to data provided by JCPS.The district will still get a revenue boost, though, despite the unanimous vote to keep the tax rate constant.“The headline here is a 3.5 percent increase in revenue on the same burden to the local taxpayers,” said David Jones Jr., a board member representing the JCPS’ 2nd District.An increase in the amount local properties are assessed will allow JCPS to generate more funding through property tax collection—to the tune of about $4 million, according to JCPS data.Superintendent Donna Hargens said the slight increase is enough for her to boast the district and can provide adequate support for students.“We have lots in this budget to support schools, absolutely we are confident that we can achieve our goals,” she said.The revenue increase alone will not be enough to make up for a near $22-million shortfall in the current budget, however.  But Cordelia Hardin, the district's chief financial officer, said the deficit will not be an issue as it will be quelled by $8.5 million in reimbursements.  What remains will be covered by the district's reserve fund, she added.Before the votes were cast nearly a dozen residents addressed the board and made pleas to increase the tax rate.  Some said they'd be happy to pay more in taxes if it meant better wages for teachers.In public comments before the school board's vote, Thomas Pierce told the board that underpaid and under-resourced teachers can lead to undereducated students.“When you treat teachers like garbage, you going to get garbage in return,” he said.But James Holland and a few other welcomed the decision to not increase the tax rate.He said for “average, everyday” people who live “paycheck to paycheck,” even a subtle increase in payments can “hurt pretty bad.”“When you have an organization that just welcomes itself into your wallet,” he said.  “It kind of wears as a burden.”Brent McKim, the president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association, said a vote to keep the tax levy constant into next year will negatively impact the amount of revenue generated in the future.“This decision this year lowers the baseline for every year hereafter, there is an old saying of the ‘gift that keeps on giving,’ well, this is the opposite of that,” McKim said.And as for coming years, Hargens and Hardin both hinted at substantial hikes in the tax rate.Hargens said the budget for the 2016 fiscal year will “depend” on a 4 percent revenue boost.

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.