Proposed Lexington property tax increase moves forward at school board meeting

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Property taxes could soon go up again in Fayette County, but school board members say the increase would not be as high as it could have been.

It is all to pay for the school district's roughly $580 million budget as district leaders say they are getting less and less help in the form of state funding from leaders in Frankfort.

The proposed increase took a step forward at a special tax levy meeting Thursday night at the school's central office in Lexington. It is part of a process that happens every year when the board re-evaluates the tax rate, with the option to raise the rate to meet a four percent revenue increase.

The school board had several options on the table.

The proposal they chose to move forward with would mean about a seven dollar increase for a $100,000 house.

"Is seven dollars for every $100,000 something that worth an investment in our children and in their needs and in their success?" board chair Stephanie Aschmann Spires told reporters after the meeting. "We have a growing district. And we have a district that also has growing needs."

During the meeting Spires warned of cuts the district would need to make if an increase is not approved.

Under the proposal, real property would be taxed at 81.7 cents and tangible personal property at 77 cents per $100 of assessed value. Right now, the school tax rate is 81 cents and tangible personal property is 76 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Chairwoman Spires, Vice-Chairman Raymond Daniels and board member Daryl Love all voted to move forward with that plan. Members Tyler Murphy and Will Nash voted against it.

"We need to be in a position where if we do ask for additional revenue or we do get additional revenue," Murphy said, "that that is translating to our children in the classroom, because that is the heart of what we do."

Still, the increase is not as high as it could have been. The board decided not to raise the school safety tax, which was first implemented last year.

Several board members mentioned wanting to provide some relief to Lexington taxpayers, who saw a larger-than-normal increase last year when the school safety tax was implemented. Board member Daniels questioned the efficiency fo the money already spent from that, as the safety plan thus far has not gone according to schedule. Some Lexington schools are still waiting on metal detectors.

One board member also referenced a likely increase in the city's taxes across some parts of Lexington as a reason not to pass too large of an increase.

Several board members called on state lawmakers to increase their funding of public education.

"We are investing in our kids here in Fayette County. We have skin in the game. We have muscle in the game," board chair Spires said. "But Frankfort does not. They have not - they keep passing unfunded mandates, they've reduced our SEEK funding - and we need them to step up."

"I was against raising the tax rate because I think Fayette Countians have invested a lot of money in the school system over the last several years," board member Nash said. "What we haven't seen is the state keep up their end of the bargain."

Board members pledged transparency as the process moves toward a final vote next month.

"I'm not always sure that throwing money at a problem is the answer," said Chuck Perry, who lives in Lexington. He was one of about a dozen people who showed up at the meeting Thursday evening.

Property owners in Lexington will have several opportunities to make their voices heard on the issue.

The school board will hear public comment on the tax levy proposal at its next meeting August 26. After that there will also be a public hearing scheduled in early September before the board makes a final vote to set the tax rate for the year.

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