Board Cites Decreasing State Funds, Increasing Costs
The Burgin Board of Education voted to increase the property tax rate to 77.5 cents per $100 in assessed value for real estate and tangible property and the motor vehicle tax rate of 54.6 cents per $100 in assessed value. The move, which is expected to bring in an additional $150,000 in funds for the school district, passed unanimously despite the near unanimous opposition from people who attended the public hearing last week.
“We’ve got an excellent product and we’re trying to preserve it for future generations,” said Board of Education Chairman Robert Clark after the vote. Clark explained the four-percent increase is not a four-percent raise on property taxes, but on revenue the school collects. Along with the nickel equivalent taken by the school board earlier this year, a property owner would pay $80 more for a property assessed at $100,000 than he would have last year.
“I have nothing bad to say about Burgin,” said Gary Van Gorp, whose daughter is a Burgin graduate. But Van Gorp said he had recently retired, and he was worried about his fellow retirees, many of whom are on fixed incomes.
Clark said retirees could apply for exemptions from the property valuation administrator’s office.
Jane Williams asked about out of district students. Williams was specifically concerned that the property taxes paid by students’ families in other districts was not being passed along. Superintendent Will Begley said the state provides $3,900 in funding per pupil for the 17 students who are paying $2,400 a year in tuition.
“That’s what we consider their property tax,” Begley said. “That’s their contribution.”
Tuition students must apply to attend. The decision is made by a committee, who follow a formula. If accepting a student means the district would have to hire a new teacher, the student is rejected.
“That formula helps fill empty chairs,” Begley said.
Burgin has 31 out of district students, many of them from Mercer County. “Why can’t they all be charged tuition?’ asked Bill Yeary.
Begley said Burgin has reciprocal agreements with Mercer County Schools as well as the other surrounding school districts, which limits the number of students who can cross district lines. Only students in excess of those limits can legally be charged tuition, Begley said.
Yeary also asked about the nickel equivalent. Begley explained by taking it, Burgin could receive $50,000 in matching funds from the state. The funds raised from that increase could only be used for capital improvements, such as the renovation of the school bathrooms. That renovation was necessary because the bathrooms had not been redone since the 1964 school expansion. The upstairs bathrooms were not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Taking the nickel equivalent also allowed Burgin to nearly quadruple their bonding capacity, from $1.2 million to $4.4 million, which will allow the school to pursue other projects in the future, such as a new cafeteria and a new library. Under state law, Burgin cannot take another nickel equivalent.
Yeary, who is also retired, complained about the tax increase on top of taking the nickel equivalent. “It seems every year it just goes up,” he said.
“If you want to live in a community that has a thriving school, that has a thriving economy…somebody has to pay for it,” said Chairman Clark, who cited state cuts in funding as well as increased expenses. Both Clark and Begley blamed the state, which they said has transferred the cost of education to local taxpayers.
“Frankfort made it clear they expect local communities to pay more for local education,” Begley said.
Of the people who spoke at the tax hearing, only Katrina Sexton, who still has children attending Burgin, spoke for it. “Until the state government comes up with a solution, it’s going to happen,” said Sexton, who is currently on the Burgin City Council and is running for the board of education.
“To me, that’s not the answer,” said Marsha Sims. Sims doesn’t live in Burgin, but she and her husband own property in the city.
“This school tax is the highest tax we pay,” she said.
“If someone can come up with a better idea, we’d listen,” Clark said.
Clark referred back to the vote to expand the school back in 1964, which he said passed by only three votes. He asked what would have happened to the city of Burgin if the vote had failed.
“Where would we be today?” Clark asked. “In all likelihood, we wouldn’t be here.”
Darrell Downing complained that taxpayers had already been hit by a new six-percent state taxes on services, including veterinarian care and automotive repairs. “Have you all looked at cutting stuff?” Downing asked.
“We’re bare bones,” said Begley, who noted that the school’s certified staff ranks 159 out of 176 school districts for pay. Despite the low pay, Burgin High School was ranked 34-th in the state during the last KPREP assessments. He said the school had eliminated four positions last year, but still, 85-percent of the district’s budget was certified salaries.
The board thanked those in attendance for speaking up. Donna Major, who is not seeking reelection, said the best way for the public to make their voices heard is by attending meetings, especially during June and July, when the district sets their budget for the upcoming year.
To learn more, check out this week’s issue of the Harrodsburg Herald.