Tax rates for real estate and personal property within the Harlan County School District will remain the same for the coming year following action by the board of education at a recent special meeting.
State officials had presented the school district with a plan to increase taxes from 49.4 cents per $100 assessed value up to 52.6 cents per $100, which would have amounted to a jump of a little more than $30 on a home valued at $100,000.
The vote to adopt this new “compensating rate,” which was estimated to have given the district the same amount of revenue as the previous year, failed when board members Pam Sheffield, Myra Mosley and Wallace Napier chose not to support the motion.
The substitute proposal, to keep the rate the same as the previous year, was approved by the same total.
After the meeting, Sheffield explained her stance as being in what she believed was the best interests of the taxpayers of the county. The district could address any revenue shortage by making adjustments to the central office expenses, she said.
Jody Gilliam, the district’s finance director, estimated the revenue shortfall to be nearly $300,000.
Superintendent Mike Howard attempted to put the district’s tax rate in perspective by noting how, even with the proposed increase of the compensating rate, the tax burden in Harlan County was lower than many of the surrounding school districts.
The reason for the requested increase in local taxes was the ongoing decline in property values, in particular a loss of more than $50 million in value for unmined minerals that have been a significant source of tax revenue for a generation.
Howard also noted a slight decline in enrollment this year compared to last. The student count was 43 less than from the same time in the school calendar in 2015. That will also result in a decrease in future funds provided to the school district, he added.
The board accepted Howard’s recommendation to keep the tax rate for motor vehicle, aircraft and watercraft at 33.60 cents per $100 assessed value; the same rate, he said, as it has been for many years.
Gilliam provided an overview of the district’s budget of nearly $29.25 million, though a portion of that is “pass-through” funding from state and federal sources that are outside the discretion of the local school board to spend other than in designated ways.
Still, Gilliam told the board they had ended the year with a $1.5 million balance after beginning the year with a $1.1 million balance.
“That is good and we are sound financial, which is where we want to be,” he said.
In a related matter, the board approved a proposal to refinance its construction bonds at a rate that would save the district $418,000 over the life of the $4.2 million bonds, which were originally issued in 2010.
In other action, the board:
• Approved a veteran’s high school diploma for David Donald Hall, of Cumberland Furnace, Tennessee;
• Approved the superintendent’s employment report of 17 hires, five resignations, three transfers and one placement among certified staff, and five hires, seven resignations and six transfers among classified staff;
• Agreed to advertise for bids to install a concrete slab at Evarts for an outside freezer;
• Approved a high school band trip to Tennessee High in Bristol for a competition;
• Approved an educational studies agreement with Union College;
• Approved the unaudited financial reports for 2016;
• Held the first reading of a policy requiring food service staff to get TB and medical exams only upon employment and no longer annually;
• Approved a building request to the state in order to upgrade the lighting at the high school gym;
• Held the second reading of the Title I violation complaint procedure;
• Completed the superintendent’s evaluation with either exemplary or accomplished scores given on each of the seven standards;
• Discussed a variety of mechanical, cooling and maintenance issues with the leadership staff;
• Requested promotional efforts regarding the district’s success with the energy management program;
• Set the next meeting for Sept. 15 at 6:30 p.m. in the Central Office.