LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- As the Jefferson County Board of Education weighs its options to generate millions more in tax revenue to tackle infrastructure and classroom needs, a key piece of advice emerged from Monday’s Revenue Advisory Task Force meeting: build public support for higher taxes.
Whatever route the school board decides to take to increase its coffers, it may be subject to a vote in next year’s general election if at least 35,615 voters affected by the proposed tax increase sign a recall petition.
The district’s two primary options to increase taxes are raising its property tax rate beyond the 4% revenue growth allowed by law without triggering a petition and levying a recallable nickel tax. The latter would add a tax of about 5.6 cents per $100 of assessed property value and yield an estimated $38 million annually for the district, with all proceeds dedicated to facilities spending, according to previous discussions by the school board on the nickel tax.
JCPS has estimated facility needs of $1.2 billion, but Superintendent Marty Pollio said there are other areas that could benefit from additional tax revenue. He noted that JCPS, at 72.5 cents per $100 of assessed property value, has the lowest tax rate of any of its neighboring school districts.
Anchorage Independent has the highest tax rate at 98.2 cents per $100 of property value, according to data set to be presented to the JCPS school board Tuesday.
“One thing that has been very evident from this work that I have repeated over and over again that surprises people is that we have the lowest property tax rate anywhere in the area with a student population who probably needs the highest tax rate,” Pollio said.
Raising the district’s property tax rate gives it more flexibility in how those funds are spent, a point made by some on the task force during Monday’s meeting.
Some spending options that will be put before the school board in the task force’s presentation Tuesday beyond facility needs include funding for instructional devices for students at a cost of $5.4 million a year; providing nurses at the district’s 36 accelerated improvement schools and mental health counselors at every schools for $9.8 million total; giving teachers an extra five days of professional development for $11.5 million annually; and giving teachers cost-of-living raises at $3.7 million for every 1% increase.
But to build support for any tax increase that might be subject to recall, members of the revenue task force urged district officials to develop a plan to sell to the public. JCPS is looking to hire a consultant to help in that effort.
Alan Young, a JCPS resource teacher and project manager for the district’s educator growth system, said the district should focus on the importance of investing in education and the outcomes of the district’s students. Better educational outcomes to trickle down to areas like the local economy, which could offer a bigger tax base, he said.
“We’ve been underinvesting, and we could not invest at any cheaper, better or more strategic time than right now,” Young said.
Lawrence Herring Jr., president of the insurance agency Patriot Group, said he never understood the magnitude of needs at JCPS until he began serving on the revenue task force. He believes that a nickel tax should be part of the district’s funding strategy, he said.
“I’m hoping that whatever JCPS comes up with is palatable to the citizens of Jefferson County because that’s where the rubber’s going to meet the road,” Herring said.
Much of the effort will depend on how the district plans to use the new tax dollars, a point emphasized by some on the task force.
Pollio said while he has his own ideas of how the district could spend an extra $60 million to $80 million per year in new tax revenue, it’s not his decision alone.
“One thing I’ve learned very quickly is me putting together a plan and saying this is what it is usually doesn’t work that way,” he said. “It requires a lot of input and discussion and rightfully so, but I can’t just stand up and say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do with $60 million.’”
Still, Pollio said “there will be a very clear plan” on how the district plans to use that new money if and when the school board votes to pursue additional taxes.
A tentative schedule included in Tuesday’s presentation has the first vote on any additional tax levies on May 12, which would initiate a 50-day window for opponents to gather signatures in a petition.
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