The Southgate Independent School board passed a motion to enforce a new recallable nickel tax in an effort to increase their bonding capacity for facility updates.
The board set the new tax of .057 cents per $100, or $57 for every $100,000 in property evaluation to be eligible for “urgent need” money from the state. That would increase their bonding capacity from $800,000 to $2.1 million.
The tax will be year over year, in addition to the district’s annual tax.
While the school board has the authority to set the district’s tax rates, Superintendent Greg Duty reported the change at a recent Southgate City Council meeting, where council members questioned how the new tax was justified.
“Per Kentucky law, school taxes can only be placed on the city tax rolls or the county tax rolls,” Southgate Mayor Jim Hamberg said. “By law, they cannot send a billing on their own. We are under contract with the school (as the county would be), who pays the city 2% for providing this service for them. Those funds are put back into our general budget for usage within the city.”
Money from the recallable nickel tax can only go toward facility needs.
The school’s buildings date back to 1903 and 1930. They currently have a mobile classroom on site, which Duty said the community wants to be removed. He said they also would like to use funds for an elevator or lift to make the building more accessible. The renovation plans also included the school’s restrooms, cafeteria, and gym if the district secures the funding.
The Southgate Independent School District teaches kindergarten through eighth grade and has around 200 students enrolled.
Other schools in cities around Northern Kentucky have benefitted from the recallable nickel tax. According to Duty, Bellevue received $12 million in the last legislative session, and Ludlow got $23 million.
Last year’s tax rate was set at 118.9% in Southgate, and this year it is 108.2%, including the recallable nickel; however, that rate is still higher than other cities like Bellevue, with a tax rate of 94.1% and Ludlow’s 96.7%.
At the council meeting, Southgate City Council Member Joe Anderson said he wasn’t sure how the school is justifying raising taxes when they are already double the property tax in the city.
“Our (school) taxes are double our house taxes,” Anderson said. “We get a lot of calls from everybody complaining that their taxes are high. I tell them to look at their taxes; it is the school. Their taxes are double, and now you’re going to come back and ask for a nickel tax which is going to raise everybody’s taxes again. I don’t see how we justify that.”
Anderson also questioned Duty on what the school is doing for the student’s success, noting the school’s state report card “orange” rating for both the elementary and middle schools. Orange is the second-lowest rating for state report cards.
Duty said the pandemic was hard on education.
“Understand something, a pandemic hit, and I’m not making excuses, but that did affect our kids,” Duty said. “Virtual learning was not good for the students of Southgate, Independent Schools.”
Anderson said the Southgate school district was bad before the pandemic, which wasn’t an excuse for low test scores.
Duty argued that test scores only represent five days of the 172-day school year.
Southgate City Council Member Chris Robisch said he was concerned the city is driving families away by raising taxes. He offered the idea of consolidation at the meeting.
“I wish we could take a look at other school districts and see if we could get together,” Robisch said. “Right now, the big thing is the merging of facilities. The cities are doing it. I just think we’ve gone so far taxing our residents that it’s time to stop. I’m going to be going off of council in January, so I’m not afraid to say this, you guys need to start taking a look at consolidation.”
Duty said people choose their neighborhood because of the school system and encouraged anyone in the community to talk with families that have kids attending the school about their experience.
“When the school system continues to do well and grow, then the community will do so as well,” Duty said.”