By Rob McDaniel
LAUREL COUNTY, Ky. — The Laurel County Board of Education held a meeting Wednesday night to vote on setting the 2014 tax rates.
“I’d like to recommend setting tax rates under House Bill 44 with a 4 percent revenue increase for real and personal, with exoneration at 49 cents per $100 of assessed property value. I’d like to set the vehicle tax rate to 46.3 cents per $100 of assessed value and set utility tax at a 3 percent rate,” Superintendent Doug Bennett said.
Despite mixed feelings among board members, the tax increase passed with a 3-2 vote.
Board chair Joe Schenkenfelder and board members Charles “Bud” Stuber and Tommy Smith all voted yes.
“I’m going to vote yes because the funding would keep other programs in place and keep them going in the direction they’re going,” Schenkenfelder explained prior to the vote. “It will help fund the readiness center. It’s going to be required to get the appropriate people in the right positions and it will create opportunity for our children.“
“I think that’s what the school system needs. I think it’s best for the district itself, even though I personally don’t want this,” Stuber said. "I pay taxes, too, but I still feel this is what is best for the school district and that’s what I was elected to do, what’s best for the school district.”
“I’m going to vote 'yes' myself, largely for the same reason Bud (Stuber) said,” Tommy Smith said. "Plus, we had staff we had to let go this year and next year we’ll be looking at teachers. I don’t want to see 40 students in our science and math classes as there would have to be."
Board members Ed Jones and Jeff Lewis voted against the tax increase.
“I’m going to vote 'no' on this, “ Jones said. “Although I’m very well pleased with our programming and I think we have a very bright outlook for our future, particularly in the career readiness center, I think the timing is not good for a lot of folks. On my drive up here from my office, I counted 27 vacant properties. That’s not a very good sign of prosperity in our area, so I’m going to vote no."
Lewis didn't elaborate on his reasons for voting no.
According to Bennett, the increased revenue would be used to increase student learning and the quality of services offered, including the purchase of student textbooks, funding required for yearly training for teachers and the College and Career Readiness Center.
The board also held a vote to purchase six 78-passenger school buses at $105,044 each and one handicap equipped bus, which holds 52 passengers, at $88,333. The total value of buses is $735,145.
“The buses we have are on a 12-year replacement cycle and the state reimburses us one tenth the cost of each bus, each year,” Bennett said. “So next year we would be reimbursed $10,500 next year per bus.”
Bennett said the board did not purchase any buses last year and it caused maintenance costs to increase by $45,000.
Jones voiced concerns about spending the money now versus saving it.
“I’d like to see us forgo this for at least a year because of the cash savings that it would bring the district,” Jones said.
Jones and Lewis voted against the purchase of buses; the remaining three board members voted to approve the purchase; and the measure passed.