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Jenkins board hikes tax again

Jenkins Independent School District residents, who already pay some of the highest school taxes in Kentucky, are being asked to pay even more during the next year.

The Jenkins Independent Board of Education voted unanimously in a rare Sunday afternoon session to raise the school district’s tax on real estate to 79.9 cents per $100 of assessed property, up from 73.9 cents per $100 the year before. Motor vehicle and watercraft rates will stay at their current rate of 69 cents per $100 of assessed value.

Jenkins School Board Chairman Durward Narramore Jr. said the tax hike is still well below the state’s recommended compensating rate on real estate that would have put the school district’s property tax rate at $1.01 per $100.

Jenkins Schools Supt. Deborah Watts said the steep increase in the state’s compensating rate came as the result of lowered property valuations that went into effect last year. She said the Department of Revenue is reexamining last year’s valuations because it is possible valuations were too low. Watts said the school district could lose as much as $174,000 if the board chose to stay at the current rate, and might lose $136,000 even with the new rate. She said there might also be penalties levied by the Kentucky Department of Education since the board did not take the compensating rate. Watts also said that while the Department of Revenue figures may not be sufficient, the school system is stuck with them until an official change is made.

The Department of Revenue figures lowered property values in the Jenkins taxing district by $23 million last year, according to Watts. She said the figures did not look right to her when she saw them, and that when she looked at them again she was convinced that they were too low. Watts said she expects a change to be made, but for now school officials have to go with the current valuation.

“It makes it difficult for us to set our tax rate,” said Watts. “It will probably change some.”

Watts said the possibility that the state might change the valuation is why the board had waited until the last possible day to meet and set the property tax rate, which was Sunday. Tax rates were due to the Letcher Fiscal Court on October 1. The court held a special meeting on Tuesday to approve the rates.

“It will be a few weeks to a month before they get this straightened out,” Watts said Sunday. “But it (the tax rate) has to go in tomorrow.”

Narramore said the board would lose money at any rate except the $1.01 compensating rate, but added that he did not feel that the board could put that kind of burden on the taxpayers. He said the system will not save enough by its earlier closing of McRoberts School to make up for the loss.

Narramore, who is president of the Kentucky School Boards Association, said that every school system across the state will lose money in this taxing cycle. He said the real blame should be placed on the Kentucky General Assembly.

“The legislature is not funding public education,” said Narramore. “They are putting it all back on the local level.”

Vice Chairman Tracy Goff said he supports the increase reluctantly and asked if the Department of Revenue had given any indication of what it expects the revised assessment to be. Watts said that so far she has not seen a number, but said it will probably be adjusted.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Watts.

“If we took the $1.01 rate and the state raises the assessment, we could have a windfall at the taxpayers’ expense,” said Narramore. “But we are trying to figure out a way to make sure people can afford to live here.”

Board member Eileen Sanders pointed to the high rate of delinquent taxes for the past year as well, saying it is the highest it’s been in quite a while. Narramore said that in the current economy he could not in good conscience recommend a higher rate than 79.9 cents and did not want to set it that high.

Supt. Watts told The Mountain Eagle Tuesday that prior notice of the high tax increase adopted by Jenkins School Board on Sunday was not given to the public because the rate chosen by the board meets the requirements of House Bill 940, also known as the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990.

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