Thursday, March 6, 2003

Tax vote divided in Fort Thomas

Precincts split evenly: 7 for, 7 against

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

FORT THOMAS - While a tax increase narrowly passed in Fort Thomas, in some precincts, it was a distinct loser.

Nearly 60 percent of those who voted in Precinct B on the Fort Thomas school tax issue voted against it. In the other 13 precincts combined, 44 percent were opposed.

Fort Thomas voters approved a school tax increase Tuesday that will provide the district with $1.5 million a year. The issue authorizing an 11 percent increase passed 2,932 votes for to 2,607 votes against, or 53 percent to 47 percent.

Kim Dunn, whose home falls within Precinct B, describes her neighborhood as a good mix of younger and older residents. Precinct B is north of Memorial Parkway, and includes such streets as Clover Ridge, Chestnut Lane and Carriage Court.

She says the homes are of average value compared with others in Fort Thomas. Nearly the same percentage who voted against the issue in Precinct B voted for it in Precinct A. Precinct A includes streets near St. Catherine of Siena Church such as Broadview Place and Barrett Drive.

Of 14 precincts in the city, seven had a majority vote for the issue, while seven had a majority vote against it.

Fifteen votes or less separated the final tallies in five precincts.

Precincts E and H showed the largest gaps, with the majority voting for the increase in each precinct. Both voting machines for those precincts were set up at Highlands High School, one of the schools that will benefit from the increase.

Another explanation for the close totals could be that many voters were in a situation much like that of Dunn.

Dunn has lived in Fort Thomas for nearly 42 years. She and her husband, Greg, have three children - two at St. Catherine of Siena and one in public school. Kim and Greg are graduates of Highlands High School. Dunn's parents, also Fort Thomas residents, are retired and on a fixed income.

Dunn has an allegiance to the high-quality school system, pays tuition for two of her children, wants a good public education for the other one and is concerned about her parents who would be hit hard by a tax increase.

"This was a really tough issue for me," said Dunn, who did not wish to disclose her vote. "I didn't make up my mind which way I was voting until I got into the voting booth."

A similar situation took place in Fort Mitchell in May 2001.

The Beechwood Independent School District, faced with rising property values in the city and less money coming in from the state, sought to raise taxes by 26 percent.

Beechwood Schools Superintendent Fred Bassett said the final vote total was nearly identical to the outcome in Fort Thomas on Tuesday.

"It's a hard sell. Nobody wants to pay more in taxes," said Bassett. "But if we hadn't been able to raise our own local dollars, we'd really have been hurting."

Bassett said that the state formula, by design, discriminates against districts such as Beechwood and Fort Thomas.

Since the Kentucky Education Reform Act was passed in 1990, school districts receive state aid based on property valuation. The higher the property values, the less money the district receives.

The formula forces richer districts to find ways to come up with more money on a local level.

"Even with these tax increases, it will only last so many years until the formula grinds us down again," said Bassett. "The increase should help Fort Thomas in the short term, but in the long term, something has to be done with the formula."

Breakdown by precinct on school levy

ASt. Catherine of Siena Church298215
BSt. Catherine of Siena Church229328
CJohnson Elementary School296225
EHighlands High-Middle School239124
FFirst Baptist Church of Fort Thomas144112
HHighlands High-Middle School 249130
ICampbell County Public Library155197
KFort Thomas City Building210132
LSt. Thomas School189183
MFort Thomas Armory113128
NHighland Avenue Baptist Tabernacle179189
PFort Thomas Armory139178
RWoodfill Elementary School187192
SHighland Hills Baptist Church171178
Absentee ballots13496
Total votes2,9322,607

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