Not since 2009 has the millage rate assessed by the Fayette County Board of Education been less than 20 mills. That changed on Aug. 31 when the school board lowered the rate to 19.75 mills.
The vote on the millage rate, which still amounted to a tax increase due to rising property values, was unanimous.
Though voting for the new rate, board member Leonard Presberg said, “The rate doesn’t match the budget and I think we’re being fiscally irresponsible.”
Presberg cited his belief that the community’s investment in teachers trumps a millage reduction.
Board member Dan Colwell agreed, saying, “I wish we weren’t reducing the rate.”
Superintendent Jody Barrow said that, while it might be tight, the school system will live within the budget.
Millage reduction notwithstanding, the 19.75-mill rate amounts to a $85.46 tax hike on a $250,000 home with a homestead exemption and a $104.64 increase on a $300,000 home without the exemption.
A complete offset of a tax increase would have required that the rate be reduced to 18.878 mills.
Board members Barry Marchman and Diane Basham and Chairman Marion Key in a previous millage discussion advocated for a decrease to 19.75 mills or lower.
Chairman Marion Key earlier in August said the millage rate could be reduced to 18 mills.
Barrow followed, citing the uncertainty of funding coming at the next session of the General Assembly. He said the motion could set the rate at 20 mills with the board able to discuss the 19.75-mill option during the public hearings.
“Twenty mills is too much,” responded board member Barry Marchman at the meeting, noting that the board maintained a 10 percent, or $19 million, reserve and adding that the school system has several million additional dollars on hand for capital transfers and projects. “How much cash is needed before we rollback the rate?”
Board member Diane Basham entered the discussion, agreeing with Marchman.
“We’re conservative with spending money,” Basham said, suggesting that the board consider a one-mill reduction. “I believe we’re kind of hoarding money. We have a nice reserve and capital funds. When do we start giving money back to the taxpayers?”
The school board raised the millage rate to the state-allowed maximum of 20 mills in 2009, during the opening days of the Great Recession, from the previous rate of 19.75 mills. It was in those days that the school system had 2,000 more students than today.