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Jefferson County Board of Education decides against 9% property tax hike

 The JCPS marquee against the sky.
Liz Schlemmer
The Jefferson County Board of Education decided Tuesday to limit property taxes to a 4% increase in revenues next year.

A proposal to raise property taxes to 80 cents per $100 of assessed value didn’t get enough support from members to pass.

The Jefferson County Board of Education decided against a proposal Tuesday night to increase property taxes by a maximum of 3.7 cents per $100 of real estate property and 2.3 cents per $100 of personal property, such as cars and boats. The proposal would have raised the annual tax bill on a $200,000 home by a maximum of $74 dollars next fiscal year.

“I think that we're in a healthy place and that the increase at this time is not necessary,” District 7 board member Sarah Cole McIntosh said in explaining her opposition to the proposition.

The measure would have raised local property tax revenues by 8 or 9%. The board considered the proposal at the suggestion of District 2 board member Chris Kolb, who noted that Jefferson County Public School’s current tax rate of 76.3 cents on real property and 76.8 cents on personal property is below that of the state’s other large urban districts.

“The kids in JCPS deserve to be resourced just as much as kids and all these other areas, and especially considering the kids in JCPS have much higher needs than kids in some of these other areas,” he said.

The board approved a motion by Kolb on May 23 to bring the increase in time for potential opponents to challenge the tax hike, which would place it on the ballot in November this year.

School board tax hikes that raise revenues by more than 4% in a year are subject to recall by a voter referendum. Opponents to such tax hikes have 50 days from the board vote to gather signatures calling for a referendum. Members of the Louisville Tea Party led an effort in 2020 to recall a 9.5% tax hike, but the Kentucky Supreme Court ruled the group didn’t gather the 35,000 valid signatures required.

Petition organizers were found to have altered thousands of signers’ birthdays, addresses and other information to get the document approved by the Jefferson County Clerk’s Office.

Since then, Republican state lawmakers reduced the number of signatures needed on a recall petition to 5,000 in the state’s largest school districts, making it far more likely any tax increase bringing in revenue increases of over 4% would face a referendum.

Kolb said board members had planned to talk about setting a new tax rate in August after county property value assessments come in. But if board members decided to raise taxes that late in the year, a referendum wouldn’t be able to be held until 2024. That would prevent the district from collecting increased revenues for at least a year.

“I would rather not have it drag on so that we know what the budget numbers would be and we could plan with that in mind,” Kolb told LPM News.

Kolb said before the decision that JCPS staff told him approving a tax increase Tuesday would allow enough time for opponents to get the tax on the November 2023 ballot.

The proposal, however, did not get enough support from the seven-member board.

“I don't think that we should take something to the ballot so quickly after the resolution of the 2022 Kentucky Supreme Court decision,” District 3 member James Craig said, referring to the Court’s ruling that tax opponents did not have a valid petition against the 2020 tax hike.

“I think we still owe it to the community to show results based on that increase, and so I'm reticent to go above the 4%,” Craig said.

The motion to consider the 80 cent tax rate on real and personal property never received a vote.

Instead, board members approved a motion 5-1 by Craig to limit next year’s tax rate to a rate that would allow for a 4% revenue increase — the maximum the board can raise taxes without subjecting the decision to a voter referendum.

Craig, McIntosh, District 5 board member Linda Duncan, District 6 board member Corrie Shull and District 1 board member Diane Porter voted in favor of limiting the tax rate to a 4% increase in revenues.

Kolb voted against Craig’s motion while District 4 board member Joe Marshall abstained.

The board took the 4% increase in 2021 and 2022, after raising revenue by about 9% in 2020.

Members will set the final tax rate for 2023 in the early fall, after property evaluations are analyzed.

Jess Clark is LPMs Education and Learning Reporter. Email Jess at jclark@lpm.org.