Wednesday, May 09, 2001

26% school tax hike OK'd

Boost is Beechwood's 2nd in 7 years

By Lori Hayes
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        FORT MITCHELL — In Northern Kentucky's only election Tuesday, the city's voters approved a 26 percent property-tax increase for Beechwood Independent Schools, the district's second rate increase in seven years.

        Just over 100 votes determined the financial future of the top-performing school district, with 888 votes cast for the levy and 770 votes against it.

        “We're ecstatic,” said Beechwood school board chairman Mike Dammert. “We're very grateful to the people of Fort Mitchell for supporting us. We needed the money badly.”

[photo] Leo Nieman, of Fort Mitchell, casts his vote on the school tax levy Tuesday at Fort Mitchell Baptist Church.
(Patrick Reddy photo)
| ZOOM |
        Real estate and tangible-property taxes will go up by 14 cents, from 53.5 cents to 67.5 cents per $100 assessed value. The increase will cost the owner of a $100,000 home an additional $140 a year in property taxes, adding about $464,000 to the 1,000-student district's $6 million annual budget.

        “They're asking for a lot of money,” said Lisa Boschert, mother of two Beechwood students who voted for the levy. “But if we don't give kids an education, they're not going to get it.”

        The special election drew about 40 percent of eligible voters to the polls, much higher than expected because the levy was the sole issue on the ballot.

        “It's gratifying to see the support the school district has among the local voters, including folks who don't have children in the district,” Superintendent Fred Bassett said. “It's unfortunate we've had to go back for two tax increases, but that's not the fault of the district.”

        School officials pointed to a lack of state funding to explain the need for the tax increase, saying the district must rely more on local dollars. If the levy had not passed, the district feared it would have to cut teachers or programs next year.

        The state funds school districts based on their local property values. So Beechwood, which has some of the state's highest property values, receives one of the lowest state allocations.

        However, even with local tax dollars, the district ranked 162 out of 176 school districts last year in revenue per student.

        In the past 10 years, Beechwood's state funding has increased by about 28 percent, which district officials say has not been enough to keep up with rising costs. Beechwood's local revenue, however, has increased by nearly 90 percent in that time.

        Those local increases were a bit much for some voters.

        “We feel like we're paying enough school taxes as it is,” said Lori Hehman, who voted against the levy. “I'm all for good schools, but it's high enough. They could redirect some of their money.”

        Ms. Hehman, who has a kindergartner at Blessed Sacrament Elementary on Dixie Highway, was one of several private-school parents at the polls Tuesday who voted against the levy.

        “It seems like it keeps going up and up, and they seem to keep asking for more and more,” said Steve Mairose, whose two sons, 7 and 9, attend Blessed Sacrament. Mr. Mairose voted against the levy, although he supported a tax increase in 1994.

        School boards must have voter approval to increase tax revenue by more than 4 percent each year, so few try.

        “It's very difficult to encourage people to go vote to tax themselves,” Mr. Dammert said. “We were very worried.”

        Beechwood is the only Northern Kentucky school district to ever pass a voted-on property tax increase since the onset of Kentucky's new school funding system a decade ago. The district increased rates by 10 cents in 1994.


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