Fairview school board approves 3% utility tax
WESTWOOD, Dec 27, 2012 (The Daily Independent - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
The Fairview Board of Education unanimously approved a 3 percent utility tax on Wednesday.
The decision followed a heated public hearing attended by more than two dozen, most of whom spoke out against the tax, calling it a burden on many poor and elderly residents.
Board members defended their decision, saying the tax is necessary to continue maintaining and rehabilitating school facilities and eventually could help the district to secure state funding for a new high school.
The tax would be levied on all utilities, including water, sewer, electric, gas, phones, cable and satellite, for residents and commercial businesses in the district. It could garner between $300,000 and $700,000 in revenue for the district, but will cost the average resident about $150 annually, according to officials.
State Rep. Kevin Sinnette, D-Ashland, said he's "been fighting tooth and nail" to secure funding for a new Fairview school, and had it in the state budget once, but it was removed. The state's financial situation, he said, has prevented it from passing.
"This is what we need to be a school system in 15 years," said board member Rick Tackett. "Our goal is facilities' existence, so we can still have a community like we know it. The school is a big part of our community."
"We are throwing away money repairing buildings," said board member Jeff Preston. But absent the money to build a new school, he said, rehabilitation is the only choice if the Fairview district is to survive.
Superintendent Bill Musick said state officials have estimated Fairview High needs $13 million in repairs. The school is in the midst of a $2.8 million rehabilitation that includes new lighting, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, windows and structural repair to the foundation.
Many at the meeting said they attended to get more specifics on what the tax money will be used for, and support a vote on the issue to allow taxpayers to decide.
"I know we need it, but some cannot afford to be taxed," Roger Lemaster said. "I'm not against it. I'm active in the school and I know the disrepair of our school. We do need a new school. We don't need to be putting good money after bad money trying to remodel the high school we have.
"There is no other solution. They are going to have to go down state to get the funds they need. That is why they are trying to pass this tax," he said, adding he would likely support the tax, but thinks it should go to a vote.
John Hinkle said he, too, could support the tax "if they can show us where they are going to spend it." He agreed with Tackett the school is integral to the area's sense of community, and wants to keep it. But he said many residents don't like the board's tactics of passing the tax quickly without properly explaining the need.
"Come and talk to everybody," Hinkle said of the school board. "I know people would vote for it if they knew where the money was going."
District officials said they are not allowed to go door to door to campaign for the tax.
Joe Weis is one resident who isn't likely to change his mind. He is against the tax.
"I don't know what the problem is supposed to be," he said, noting the rehabilitation work going on at the high school now and in the past.
"They are talking now about wanting new facilities for the future. Many of these schools we have in our state and other states are well over 100 years old and they keep them up and they are going quite strong," he said.
Weis believes because the tax will be levied on each utility, it will add up to more than 3 percent.
District officials say that is not true. A resident will pay 3 percent of his or her combined total utility bills regardless if there are three or seven. Officials also point out the state will keep 1 percent of tax proceeds as a fee for collecting the levy.
The tax will take effect on Feb. 9, unless opponents gather enough signatures to trigger a special recall election.
Debbie Jones, Boyd County clerk, said her office has already received an inquiry from residents interested in the petition recall process. If enough signatures are gathered, the election would be paid for by the school system.
To start the petition, Jones said a committee of five residents would have to sign an affidavit to be responsible for the petition process. To trigger a recall vote, the petition would have to be signed by 5 percent of voters who cast ballots in the November general election.
As of press time, there was no petition started, but Weis said he is among those who will work to recall the tax, as was done in 2007 and 2005 when district officials also attempted to enact the levy.
Residents have 45 days beginning today to collect the needed signatures.
CARRIE STAMBAUGH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.
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