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The Jefferson County Board of Education discusses new tax revenue possibilities during a June 25, 2019, work session.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Higher taxes may be on the horizon from Jefferson County Public Schools as Kentucky’s largest school district grapples with $1 billion in unmet facility needs, among other rising expenses.

The Jefferson County Board of Education discussed potential revenue sources during a work session Tuesday, and the three options presented to the board would mean bigger tax bills for Jefferson County residents.

The board could look to increase property tax revenues beyond the 4% growth allowed by law, establish a utility tax of up to 3% or adopt a recallable “nickel” property tax specifically for facility needs, all of which could be subject to recall petitions.

The Kentucky Department of Education has pushed the district to explore additional revenue options, criticizing JCPS in its 14-month audit for not taking steps toward addressing “pressing capital needs” by enacting measures like the nickel tax.

Chay Ritter, with KDE’s Office of Finance and Operations, told the board during a presentation Tuesday that adopting a nickel tax for facilities would net JCPS an estimated $38 million annually.

The tax for JCPS would equal about 5.6 cents for every $100 of assessed property value, Ritter said, meaning someone who owns a $100,000 home would pay an extra $56 in property taxes if it’s passed.

It’s unclear exactly how the school board will move forward in its exploration of new tax revenue. Board members discussed the possibility of establishing a task force to examine possible options, and JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the board would get any proposals, alongside revenue estimates, at a later meeting.

“Clearly, if we have $1 billion in unmet school facility needs, we have to do something,” said Chris Kolb, vice chair of the school board. “Not increasing revenue, for me, is not an option.”

Timing, particularly whether special elections are needed to enact the nickel and utility taxes, will be critical as well. Pollio said the district would ask the state whether such elections could be held in conjunction with next year’s primary elections as a cost-saving measure. If not, the district may have to wait until next fall to put those taxes on the ballot, if necessary.

Voters can disapprove of the nickel tax if enough voters sign a petition challenging it. Likewise, the utility gross receipts license tax, which would be levied on electric, water, gas and phone bills, could also be petitioned to a public vote. If the school board decides to broaden the utility tax to apply to cable and satellite services, that would also be put on the ballot for voters to decide.

Regardless of which route the school board pursues, board members and Pollio stressed the need to build public support for any proposal to potentially increase taxes.

Pollio said utility tax income could be earmarked for specific purposes, for instance, so providing “very clear” plans about how new money would be spent would be critical in getting taxpayers behind such a measure.

Board member Chris Brady said showing the public exactly what their new tax dollars would allow school officials to “get the public to understand what we’re talking about rather than this being some abstract tax that’s going to throw money into a big pile and then we’ll decide what to do with it.”

“I think it’s incumbent upon us to be able to have clear-cut plans,” he said.

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