Keeping Faith With Taxpayers

For decades, Ohio County voters have approved “excess” property tax levies for public schools every time they have been asked. The feeling seems to be that school officials have used the money wisely and with restraint.

Let’s keep it that way.

This week, Board of Education members voted 3-2 to keep the current rate for property taxes under the excess levy. That rate, 95.5 percent of the maximum allowed by state law, will be in effect during the fiscal year that begins July 1.

At that rate, the tax will bring in far more money than in the past – an estimated $2.6 million more than for the current year. That is because the value of property in Ohio County has increased dramatically, meaning the same tax rate will bring in more money.

Board members Gary Kestner and Shane Mallett voted against the rate. Both said they prefer a slightly lower rate to give taxpayers a modest break.

Board President James Jorden and members Christine Carder and Sarah Koegler voted to retain the 95.5 percent rate. Jorden explained his vote was because the school system will need more local money next year.

School system expenses increase year after year. Officials have cited an estimate of $933,000 in added costs next year. In addition, state funding is expected to decrease by $1,323,332 next year.

Those two factors will take all but about $344,000 of the projected $2.6 million excess levy increase. Jorden has suggested that money should go into a “rainy day” fund for facility improvements.

For the excess levy to continue past June 30, 2015, Ohio County voters will have to agree to renew it. The question will be on the May 13 primary election ballot.

For now, most voters probably will consider the higher cost of operating the school system, along with the state funding cut, and agree to renew the levy. No doubt some will do so reluctantly, however. The position taken by Mallett and Kestner, that board members should provide at least a little tax relief, is appealing.

Concern may grow if property values continue to increase – as is highly likely. Next year at this time, the county assessor’s determination of property values may mean a 95.5 percent rate will bring in even more dollars than the board discussed this week.

Voters will be keeping their eyes on the board, then. Failure in the future to take taxpayers’ needs into account by lowering the rate, if property values continue to increase, will not play well to an electorate that expects both effectiveness and frugality from public schools.