Education

Not enough signatures: Drive to recall Fayette school safety tax fails.

Lexington resident on tax increase: ‘I think we have the illusion of transparency’

Lexington resident Steve Logan gave input to superintendent Manny Caulk during a Fayette County School Board meeting regarding the process of how the county would be implementing a tax increase.
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Lexington resident Steve Logan gave input to superintendent Manny Caulk during a Fayette County School Board meeting regarding the process of how the county would be implementing a tax increase.

An effort to gather enough signatures to put Fayette County’s schools safety tax to a public vote has failed, the leader of the group, Dan Rose said on Tuesday, which was the deadline to gather nearly 14,000 names.

On July 18, Fayette County Public School board members voted to add a 5- cent property tax for every $100 of property value. That increase will fund a $13.5 million initiative to make schools safer with everything from standalone metal detectors to more secure building entrances and more mental health professionals. Mass school shootings in Florida and Kentucky earlier this year, and several threats of school violence in Fayette County, prompted the initiative from Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk

Had Rose and other people in Lexington against the increase prevailed and gathered the signatures within a 45-day period, the issue would have been put to a public vote.

“I’m personally convinced they would vote it down,” said Rose, “but because of the labyrinth of rules that we had to operate with and the short time frame” -- 45 days -- ”we just couldn’t get over the finish line in time.”

Rose said that with about 11,000 signatures, the five person committee that worked on the recall has decided not to waste the Fayette County Clerk’s office time by asking them to conduct a count.

“I just don’t think its a good use of taxpayer resources to have them go through some process that we know is not going to get us to the number,” said Rose.

Fayette County Clerk Don Blevins told the Herald-Leader that the group had until the end of the business day to turn in the petition, but Rose said after 4:30 p.m. that the decision did not change.

“This issue was about making sure that our children and families never face a choice between a world class education and safe schools,” Caulk said about 4:35 p,m. in a statement.

Caulk noted the outpouring of support that he said came from students, employees, families, the 16th District PTA, and business, faith and civic leaders. The District Safety Advisory Council that Caulk empaneled “engaged hundreds of community members and drew on the best thinking from across the state and nation to develop these recommendations,’ he said.

“It is clear that the vast majority of Fayette County residents understand the importance of making a permanent investment in the safety of our students and the employees who serve them,” said Caulk. “Our school board members did not take a risk by asking our community to stand with them to safeguard the lives of children and educators. The greatest risk was the risk of inaction.”

Rose said he thought the effort failed because “the public was just not tuned in to what was going on.”

The campaign did gather momentum at the last minute, which Rose attributed to citizens being upset that the school board approved a second property tax increase last week. It was a general tax levy on real and personal property in addition to the school safety property tax increase. Several people at a public hearing prior to the board vote told school board members that it was unfair for them to raise property taxes twice in just a matter of weeks.

The board last week approved a property tax increase of 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation for the 2018-19 school year. The latest tax increase approved is expected to increase revenue for the 2018-19 school year by four percent or an estimated $9 million, school officials have said. Before the vote, the tax rates were 75 cents per $100 for real estate and 76 cents per $100 for personal property. There was no rate increase last year. The newly approved tax rates for the general tax levy on real and personal property is 76 cents per $100 assessed valuation for real estate and 76 cents per $100 assessed valuation for personal property.

Both property tax increases would mean that the total tax rates would be 81 cents for real property and 76 cents for personal property.

A property owner with a $150,000 home would be paying $90 more a year, district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall, previously said.

District Chief Financial Officer John White has said that the district needs the additional 1 cent per $100 of assessed value due to fixed costs such as salaries, benefits, utilities and insurance are escalating, including transportation costs.

The Fayette County Board of Education approved a 5 cent tax increase for school safety earlier this year, after a packed hearing for public comments.

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