Tribune-Courier General Manager
Marshall County Board of Education members unanimously approved a general levy tax increase last week despite the opposition of several members of the community who argued against the measure.
The board says the increase is needed to make improvements to facilities across the district and to fund the construction of a new middle school in the south end of the county that will consolidate Benton and South Middle Schools.
The increase will take the general tax levy from 40.2 cents on real and personal property to 47.1 cents per $100 of assessed property.
During the public hearing held prior to the vote several members of the community voiced concerns about the burden of additional taxes.
Jimmie Darnell spoke against the tax and challenged the school system to come up with other ways to raise the money needed to make improvements to the schools saying, “We need to manage what we’ve already got better rather than putting more burden on the taxpayer. We are putting taxation on people who are already barely getting by.”
Larry “Cat” Spears also spoke out against the tax saying, “I have had the opportunity to be the inspector for [schools in] Livingston County, Ballard County, Crittenden, Hickman, Calloway County. We already have a Taj Mahal here, folks,” he said.
But several former and current employees of the school system in attendance at the hearing said many of the schools are in dire need of improvements.
Tanna West, a teacher at Sharpe Elementary, said her school is plagued by water leaks, mold, a gym with no heat or air and an often-malfunctioning air conditioning system in the school. “The kids have to wear their coats while you are teaching. I don’t think that’s Taj Mahal,” she said.
Kem Cothran, Secondary Instructional Supervisor with Marshall County Schools, said she is concerned about safety issues at Benton Middle School. “When the bell rings we have sixth, seventh and eighth graders cross the street to go to classrooms,” she said. “It’s not about a Taj Mahal. It’s about getting it to it to a good and safe level.”
Board member Mike Wyatt expressed the board’s responsibility is to do what is best for the students saying, “I have got to pay the same tax that anybody else has to pay and I don’t like it at all. I’m on a fixed income like many other people in some ways, but unfortunately we have found ourselves in the position now that we have to make a decision for the kids.”
Darnell asked if the increase could be put on a ballot to let the community decide, but board chairman Rocky Hudson explained the school board has the authority to increase the tax and that it is only recallable by vote.
Marshall County Court Clerk Tim York said the levy recall procedure under KRS 132.017 requires five qualified voters who live in the district to form a committee. He said they then have to collect signatures of 10 percent of the people who voted in the last presidential election. York said with qualifying signatures, the issue could then be placed on a ballot to recall the tax.
The school board is required to run a legal notice giving the public 45 days to complete a recall process. That notice is running in today’s issue of The Tribune-Courier.
York said that process is currently taking place in neighboring Graves County to recall a school tax approved by the school board there in August.