School board approves property tax increase

The Fayette County Board of Education voted unanimously Tuesday night to raise school tax rates to support school operations.

With the board's action, the school tax rate on real estate will go from the current 60.5 cents per $100 of assessed valuation to 62.8 cents per $100. The boost means the owner of a $100,000 home would pay $23 more in school taxes than last year; the increase on a $200,000 house would be double that.

The tax rate on personal property, which mainly applies to business property, also will go up, from 54.2 cents to 54.3 cents. There is no change in the motor vehicle tax.

The increase was approved by voice vote.

The new rates, which will boost school district revenue by the maximum allowable 4 percent, will be on tax bills that are being mailed out this week.

Before acting on the tax proposal, the board held a brief public hearing at which citizens could comment on the rate increase.

Seven people spoke, with four opposing the tax rate increase and three in favor.

Rebecca Abner of Lexington said that the boost would hurt older homeowners and that residents should have the right to vote on tax increases. Had the board approved a rate that increased revenue by more than 4 percent, it could have been subject to a recall.

Another opponent, Lauren Larson, noted that other divisions of government also are increasing fees and levies on taxpayers, and said the schools should cut waste or slow salary increases before putting more burdens on residents.

"As a taxpayer, I am tired," she said.

The sharpest attack came from Randy Tobia, who suggested he would mount election opposition if his district representative voted for the increase. Tobia later tried to speak against the increase during the board's regular meeting, but board chair Becky Sagan ruled he had not properly signed up to comment. When Tobia continued to try to speak, Superintendent Stu Silberman ruled he was out of order and asked him to leave the meeting hall.

The tax increase drew support from residents Jann Geddes, Michael Helfing and Reginald Thomas, all of whom contended that financial support for education is essential.

"You can't just wish for great schools; you have to pay for greatness," Thomas said.

Silberman told board members the tax boost was necessary to maintain school system operations, noting that revenue from other sources, such as interest income, has declined because of current economic conditions. He also said federal stimulus money, which helped the state avoid major school funding cuts this year, will run out after next year.

Sagan said she realized that raising the tax rate could pose difficulties for residents, particularly older taxpayers on fixed incomes. She said her own parents would be affected.

"It's a very, very hard decision," she said. "But we have to provide for our students."