County school board leaves tax rates unchanged

Published 9:00 am Monday, August 29, 2022

The Harlan County School Board discussed the district’s tax rates during the panel’s August meeting, leaving the district’s rates unchanged for both motor vehicle and property taxes.

Board Chairman Gary Farmer brought the topic up to the panel.

“We’ll move on to the 2023 motor vehicle tax rates,” Farmer said.

Farmer called on Superintendent Brent Roark to advise the board on the issue.

“You’ve got two rates the board is responsible for setting tonight,” Roark said. “The property tax rate and the motor vehicle tax rate. The motor vehicle rate in Harlan County is 46.4 cents. That’s the 14th lowest motor vehicle rate in the state of Kentucky. You guys moved it up from the low 30’s several years ago to make sure we were doing the minimum we had to do to bring in the funds we needed.”

Roark told the board the rate has remained unchanged for approximately five years.

“The board can choose to raise that if you want to,” Roark said. “I’m fine if you leave it where it’s at.”

Roark mentioned the assessed value of vehicles will likely go up in the next year.

“You guys are free to do that as you wish,” Roark said. “Our district will be fine if you leave it where it is.”

Following Roark’s recommendation, the board approved a motion leaving the motor vehicle tax rate unchanged.

The board then moved on to discuss the property tax rate.

“The current rate is 54.8,” Roark said. “Since 2017, Harlan County has lost $234 million in property valuations. People will look at that and say, my house value hasn’t gone down. But the overall property value which is taxable by Harlan County Schools, which is a lot of coal mines and coal producing property, has gone down by $234 million, so our tax base has decreased by $234 million.”

According to Roark, the amount of property tax collected by the school district has rapidly declined since 2017.

“It leveled last year, then this year it went down $18 million,” Roark said. “When property valuations go down, the only way for us to bring in the same amount of revenue is to increase the property tax rate.”

Roark stated the compensating rate suggested by the state would allow the district to keep revenues at a consistent level.

“For us to bring in the same amount of money we brought in last year for Harlan County Schools through property tax, you would have to raise the rate to 56.2,” Roark said. “That’s a very modest rate. I’ve seen it be much higher than that in previous years.”

The Harlan County School Board has not taken the compensating rate for the last four years, Roark said.

“Every time you don’t take the compensating rate, we lose that revenue not only for that year, but for every year in the future,” Roark said. “If you don’t take the compensating rate this year … The dollar amount we’ll lose at a 90 percent collection rate is about $85,000.”

Roark pointed out it is up to the board whether to take the compensating rate, leave the rate unchanged or set a different rate entirely.

“If you want us to bring in the same amount of money, we brought in last year … You have to raise the rate to 56.2 for us to have the same budget we had last year,” Roark said.

Roark added along with the lost property values, the district also has higher expenditures due to inflation, the increased costs of school resource officers, and a previous five percent pay increase to employees.

“It’s a big decision. It’s the biggest decision you make all year,” Roark said. “As superintendent, I have to recommend a minimum of the compensating rate … I also understand the situation you’re in and the situation the people in our communities are in and that you don’t want to do that.”

A motion was made to take the compensating rate, but that motion failed to pass.

After some discussion, the board voted to keep the property tax rate unchanged.