Scott Co. voters to decide on tax increase to fund second high school

gkocher1@herald-leader.comJanuary 17, 2014 

Kenna Portwood, left, chief deputy clerk, and Rebecca Johnson, Scott County clerk, right, performed an official count of signatures Friday on a petition that sought to put a school tax increase before the voters. Johnson certified that the petition had enough signatures, opening the door to a Nov. 4 election that will decide whether voters want the tax increase. Photo taken on Friday, Jan. 17, 2014. Photo by Greg Kocher | Staff

GREG KOCHER | STAFF — Lexington Herald-Leader Buy Photo

GEORGETOWN — Scott County voters will decide in the November general election whether they want a tax increase to pay for a second high school.

On Friday, Scott County Clerk Rebecca Johnson verified that a citizens' group had more than enough signatures on a recall petition to put the issue on the ballot.

The Scott County Board of Education voted in November to raise property taxes from 47.2 cents to 57.84 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

The increase is intended to strengthen the Scott County Schools' bonding capacity and thus speed construction of a second high school in the state's fastest-growing county.

But opponents filed a petition on Dec. 23 with more than 3,800 signatures to force a referendum. Opponents needed only 2,081 signatures — 10 percent of the total number of people who cast votes in the 2012 presidential election — to put the issue on the ballot. Johnson verified 2,378 signatures.

Mike Bradley, a member of the Scott County Board of Education Tax Recall Petition Committee, said he was "thrilled" that voters will decide what happens next.

"I think the citizens deserve to have their input as well as having five people (school board members) decide this for us," he said.

Supporters argue that another school is needed because the existing Scott County High School is badly overcrowded. Roger Ward, chairman of the school board, said he and other board members "are firmly resolved" that the tax increase "is the best thing for our county, for our students."

"We are not opposed to the public having a say," Ward said. "We're welcoming the attention."

"We also know," Ward added, "that it is impossible to take care of our needs with decreasing state funds for education."

But Bradley said more study of school district finances is needed.

"There are quite a few options on the table that haven't been discussed thoroughly," Bradley said. "I don't think we've had an open review of the finances."

School board members have indicated that they would not seek a special election, so that puts the issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Bradley predicted voters will soundly reject the tax increase. "This is going to get voted down in huge numbers," he said.

He has history on his side. Scott Countians rejected a school tax increase in a special bond election in September 1993. The final tally: 1,892 for, 3,046 against.

In that election, the increase could have cost residents an additional 17 cents for each $100 in property value. The 1993 election put on hold the school district's plans for a new high school, which board members hoped to finance by selling $17 million in bonds.

But that wasn't the end of the story. In a unique deal struck in 1994, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Inc. USA essentially agreed to pay 20 years' worth of property taxes early.

That meant $8 million for the Scott County school system, so there was enough money for a new high school that opened in the fall of 1996 — the same school that's overcrowded now.

Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety Greg Kocher: (859) 231-3305. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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