LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – After more than an hour of public comment and debate at two separate meetings, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted Monday not to increase property taxes in order to balance its $1.3 billion budget.

The 7-0 vote came after Superintendent Donna Hargens told board members she was not recommending a tax hike, saying she felt the district can provide the necessary funding for schools and support for students without raising taxes.

“The 2014-15 budget is all about providing support to our schools, it also includes an investment in our employees,” Hargens said. “We don't need a tax rate increase to make that happen this year. We can use the money that we do have and make it work.”

However, Hargens cautioned that next year may be a different story. The district is looking at a $23 million deficit in 2015-16 due to a 2 percent pay raises and step increases mandated by the state.

“Unless there is a major change in the economy or occupational taxes increase significantly, the school board will need to seriously consider raising taxes next year,” said Cordelia Hardin, chief financial officer of JCPS.

According to an advertisement that ran in The Courier-Journal, the school board could have sought up to a 2.8 percent increase in the property tax rate this year --  from the current rate of 71 cents - per $100 of assessed value - to 73 cents. Under that rate, the owner of a house assessed at $100,000 would have owed $730, $20 more than last year.

The district also advertised two alternative options: raising the rate to only 72 cents, which is a $10 increase for every $100,000 of assessed home value; or keeping the rate unchanged.

“The really good news in this proposal is that we don't need to change the rate in which we tax ourselves, yet still take in a 3 percent increase (by keeping the tax rate the same),” said school board member David Jones Jr.

Sixteen people addressed the school board during the tax hearing about the potential tax increase and all but three were in favor of it.

“Raising property taxes a few dollars a year is best investment we can make for our children,” said Flaco Aleman, whose children attend JCPS. “Raising property taxes can ensure our children get what they need in their classrooms and that district employees get more money.”

Deloris Delahanty told school board members the “key function of democracy is to provide proper and adequate funding for education.”

“The board needs to remind itself that you are our elected officials,” she said. “We need to make sure our children are learning and getting what they need.”

Two representatives with the Jefferson County Teachers Association also asked the school board to increase taxes despite Hargens' recommendation.

Tulio Tourinho, James Holland and OJ Oleka were among those who spoke against a tax increase.

“For seven years, you have been increasing our taxes and I can no longer remain silent while you nickel and dime us to death in the hopes that these small incremental increases go unchallenged,” said Tourinho, whose two sons attend JCPS. 

Holland said $20 extra a year is a “big hit” for some people.

“There are a lot of people living paycheck to paycheck,” Holland said.

Oleka told school board members that if the district can't properly education children with a $1 billion budget, “there is a real problem with leadership.”

Property owners in Jefferson County have seen their school tax rates steadily climb over the last decade.

In 2004-05, the owner of a $100,000 home would have paid the school district $592 in property taxes -- $124 less than what the current rate yields. That equates to a 21 percent increase over the past 10 years.

Under state law, a taxing district can adjust its rate annually, but the new rate cannot result in its revenue increasing by more than 4 percent. Any increase exceeding 4 percent requires a petition that puts the increase up for a referendum.

Aside from property taxes, JCPS gets about $26 million in motor vehicle taxes each year, as well as $134 million in occupational taxes deducted from the paychecks of workers in Jefferson County.

Reporter Antoinette Konz can be reached at 585-0839 or @tkonz on Twitter.

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