Board defends delay
Responding to criticism from the Letcher Fiscal Court, members of the Letcher County Board of Education say they set the latest yearly tax rates as quickly as they could while still following state law.
“This was the earliest date that we could get this information together,” Board Member Sam Quillen Jr., a Neon dentist, said during a public hearing on October 5.
Gary Caldwell, district finance officer for the Letcher schools, said as soon as he received necessary information provided by the Kentucky Department of Education he began the two-week process of advertising the public hearing required under state law.
During a September 17 meeting of the Letcher Fiscal Court, several magistrates expressed displeasure at the delay and Magistrate Wayne Fleming said the board’s lack of action would cause shortfalls in the budgets of several county agencies because of tax bills being mailed late.
“They made it sound as though we were wrong on our timing,” said Quillen. “Our intention is to get it done as quickly as possible for all of our benefits.”
Caldwell said that when he called the Education Department in early September to check on the tax rates, he found out that Letcher County was one of 11 districts in the state that hadn’t received possible tax rates.
“I think it would be a good idea if our finance offi- cer and our federal director would print the (state law) and the time frame and at the next fiscal court (meeting) see that it is delivered so they know that we are dictated by law when we can set the tax rate,” said Letcher Schools Supt. Anna Craft. “We are not dragging our feet. It is advantageous to get tax collected. The public needs to know we are not the ones dragging our feet.”
Craft and several district administrators plan on attending the next fiscal court meeting set for October 15.
No one from the general public addressed the board during the 30-minute hearing held in the administrative conference room at the district’s central office in West Whitesburg last Friday.
The real estate and tangible property tax rates set by the board are lower than last year’s rates.
Caldwell said a lower tax rate can be attributed to an increase in property assessments by the office of Letcher County Property Valuation Administrator Randy Hall. The assessment for real estate increased by $70,953,000 and the value of tangible personal property increased by about $30,900,000.
The board approved a general fund tax levy of 45.9 cents on real property and 45.9 cents on personal property, a decrease of 2.9 cents from last year’s rate of 48.8 cents on real property and personable property.
“This is a win/win for the board and for the public,” said Board Chairman Will Smith.
Last year’s tax rate produced revenue of $4,210,587. This year’s rate is expected to generate revenue of $4,445,770. Of this amount, $1,133,976 is from new and personal property.
The compensating tax rate for 2013 is 44.2 on real property and 44.2 cents on personal property and is expected to produce $4,281,111.90 in revenue. The compensating rate is a rate suggested to taxing entities of government by the revenue cabinet. If an entity taxes beyond the compensating rate, it must hold public hearings.
The board set the motor vehicles and watercraft tax rate at 49.6 cents per $100 of assessed value. The board also approved a three-percent tax on utilities. Caldwell said these rates have stayed the same for a number of years.
Caldwell said 5.2 cents of the total property rate is required to produce the five-cent equivalent tax necessary for participation in the School Facilities Construction Commission (SFCC) and Facilities Support Program for Kentucky (FSPK).
The board approved the percentage rate for the sheriff ’s tax collection to be four percent the first month of the 2012-2013 school year collection and three percent thereafter.
“We’ve done this now for probably 12 years,” said Craft.