Education

Still unhappy with Fayette school safety tax increase? Legislation would ease recalls.

Fayette school board approves tax increase for school safety

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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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.

The group who tried to recall a Fayette school safety tax increase are behind state lawmakers prefiling bills for the 2019 General Assembly to make tax recalls easier.

Lexington attorney Dan Rose and Ronald Vissing, leaders of last year’s recall effort, are spearheading an effort to amend current tax recall statutes and state Sen. Ralph Alvarado and state Rep. Stan Lee have pre-filed bills for the next session to support their concerns, said Vissing.

The effort goes beyond the Fayette County School district’s recent tax increases and addresses the issue statewide regarding multiple taxing authorities, Vissing said.

The intention is to make all property tax increases subject to recall by public petition. Only a limited few are subject to recall now. If a public petition is successful, the tax increase would be recalled and placed on a ballot for public vote, Vissing said.

In September, an effort to gather enough signatures to put Fayette County’s schools safety tax to a public vote failed when leaders could not gather enough signatures . On July 18, 2018, Fayette County Public School board members voted to add a 5-cent property tax for every $100 of property value.

That increase funds a $13.5 million initiative to make Fayette 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 last year and several threats of school violence in Fayette County, prompted the initiative from Fayette Superintendent Manny Caulk. Many of the safety initiatives were in place by the end of 2018.

The Fayette school board also approved a second tax increase — a general tax levy on real and personal property in addition to the school safety property tax increase. The board approved a property tax increase of 1 cent per $100 of assessed valuation for the 2018-19 school year.

Alvarado, R-Winchester, and Lee, R-Lexington, have pre-filed companion bills BR 480 and BR 368, respectively, to make changes that modernize the process by which citizens can force recall votes on tax increases by local governments and school boards.

Specifically, the bills would:

Extend from 45 to 75 days the period after which a tax increase is approved to obtain the required petition signatures for a recall vote by the citizens in the affected jurisdiction.

“We feel really confident that if we had more time, we would have gotten the required number of signatures on the last effort,” Vissing said in an interview.

Reduce the petition signature requirement from 10 percent to 5 percent of the number of votes in the last Presidential election.

Modify the petition requirements to eliminate the need for all hard copies of the petition to be exactly the same size and contain the names of voters from the same precinct.

Authorize petition signatures to be obtained electronically.

Extend the recall process to all local school board property tax rate increases, not just those that would produce revenue in excess of 4 percent more than the prior year, called the “compensating rate.”

Extend the recall process to property tax increases of county fiscal courts, special purpose government entities, and city and urban-county governments, and to occupational license fees, occupational license taxes, gross receipts license taxes and excise taxes for schools.

Alvarado and Lee said in a news release that these changes would enhance the rights of citizens and taxpayers to vote on tax increases and place a much needed check on the taxing power of local governments and school boards.

In response, Fayette County Public Schools officials released a statement Wednesday that said they are willing to work with its legislative delegation on the tax recall issue and they have adopted legislative priorities which include tribunal reform, changes to site-based decision making authority and innovations to allow superintendents and school the ability to more quickly intervene in schools where students are not being served at high levels.

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