The editorial "Privatized dorms raise taxing questions" certainly did just that — it raised questions.
But it didn't really do much in the way of providing answers. And it's important to provide some clarity when significant questions are raised about the University of Kentucky's commitment to our students and their families as well as to the community of Lexington that we serve.
In the interest of answers, here's the rest of the story:
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Three years ago, UK — under the leadership of its board of trustees and President Eli Capilouto — began a massive transformation of its infrastructure. Our residence halls, on average, were more than 45 years old. They didn't have learning or community spaces and lacked the technology that students need or that even many of our best high schools in the state possess.
In other words, our facilities didn't match the quality of our students, faculty and staff. We needed to change and change quickly.
The simple fact of the matter is, building and repairing facilities in the traditional way — doing it ourselves — didn't work anymore. In the previous 40 years, we were able, on our own, to construct only four residence halls comprising 686 beds.
Working with a private partner who builds student housing across the country, we've constructed 12 residence halls in three years, totaling some 4,600 beds with 11 high-tech classroom spaces, including nearly 175 study rooms and multi-purpose spaces to support living and learning programs.
We put students first in everything that we do. More students living on campus is good for learning, recruitment and retention. It's also good for the neighborhoods that surround our campus.
And it's good for something else — the economy of our hometown.
No, we don't pay property taxes on those facilities. As an educational institution, we don't pay property taxes on any facilities we own. We are no different from any other university or local school district in that regard, nor should we be.
The only difference with our residence halls is that we have found a different way to finance their construction, a mechanism that has enabled us to build more and do so more quickly and cost-effectively.
But it is a fallacy to suggest that the community has lost revenue as a result. The city never anticipated or contemplated revenues from the construction of residence halls. We've never paid property taxes on such facilities. In other words, you can't lose what you never had.
However, it is inarguable that our transformation is impacting the economy of this community in a profoundly positive way. As Mayor Jim Gray often says, UK drives our economy.
Because of the residence halls alone, an additional $10.2 million in state and local taxes has been generated the past three years and approximately 9,400 jobs have been created.
Additionally, the annual occupational tax paid by university employees in 2014 to local government was $25 million; and, another $3.9 million in school tax for total local taxes of $28.9 million.
Of the $1 billion in construction underway in and around downtown Lexington right now, more than 63 percent of it is university construction. In fact, some $1.7 billion in construction is underway or about to begin on the UK campus — construction that will improve learning and expand our ability to conduct research that helps and heals throughout Kentucky.
In the process, we will create thousands more jobs and millions more in taxes that can be plowed into schools, roads and other basic services. It's no accident that the Lexington economy is growing and that the city is experiencing years of surpluses. Our community is managed well. And it has at its heart a growing university that is stimulating economic investment and growth.
To be sure, we should always raise questions — and be willing to engage in dialogue — about the impacts of growth and our long-term plans as an institution so vital to our community.
We should ask questions. But we also should forthrightly discuss the answers to those questions. In the case of UK, the answers are reason for our community and our commonwealth to celebrate.