JCPS Property Tax Rate Increase Survives Kentucky Supreme Court Appeal | In depth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday unanimously upheld a lower court’s decision that the recall petition challenging a 7-cent property tax rate increase for public schools in the Jefferson County did not have enough signatures to take the matter to voters in 2020.

The high court also upheld the decision of Jefferson Circuit Judge Brian Edwards to reject the petition committee’s assertion that the Jefferson County School Board had made a procedural error in its vote authorizing the increase in the tax rate, which should generate 9.5% of additional annual income.

Kentucky’s largest school district expects the higher property tax rate to bring in $54 million in additional revenue each year.

Votes on the tax reminder were collected but not counted in 2020 pending legal challenges. The school board, which voted 5-2 to approve the new property tax rate, and the Jefferson County Teachers Association initially filed a lawsuit, arguing that Jefferson County Clerk’s Office Bobbie Holsclaw had committed an error in certifying the petition with 38,507 signatures.

Edwards determined that the petition should have been missing approximately 2,000 signatures out of the 35,517 required for certification due to erroneous, duplicate, and altered entries.

The No JCPS Tax Hike Petition Committee appealed the lower court’s decision, but the Kentucky Supreme Court questioned the non-existent security of the ballot initiative process. This was the first time tax reminder petition signatures were collected electronically, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It was not necessary for each person electronically signing the petition to respond to an email or SMS reminder or acknowledgment and there was no evidence that any other verification procedure was used. “, says the opinion of the Supreme Court of Kentucky. “Instead, a person signing the e-petition only needs to type in a name and address, a social security number or month of birth, and the name and number of their polling station. In an electronic environment where generic information such as this can be discovered, that information, alone, is insufficient to establish attribution.Based on the evidence, there is simply no way to determine that the signatures emails are attributable to the person they claim to be.

“We hold the complete absence of any security measures to ensure that an electronic signature has been made by the purported signatory voids the petition,” the High Court’s opinion reads.

The Kentucky Supreme Court also determined that the Jefferson County School Board did not err in its handling of property tax rate increase notices.

The school board did not have the previous year’s general tax rate on its May 2020 rate increase notices because property assessments had not been completed and property tax rate statements individuals were not yet due, which the high court determined “is not fatally flawed” in dealing with it.

“The statutes simply do not provide for the circumstance that the information to be published in the notice is not available in time for a tax reminder to proceed to a regular election ballot in the same year that the tax is passed “, says the opinion of the Supreme Court of the State. .

JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio said the district was “satisfied” with Thursday’s decision, calling the decision “a victory for the children of Jefferson County.”

Local property owners have already paid the district’s property tax rate of 80.6 cents per $100 of assessed value, and Pollio said JCPS accumulated $74.5 million from the higher rate in an escrow account.

JCPS can now deploy those dollars into investments already pledged by the board, such as improving facilities, funding very poor schools and racial equity initiatives, Pollio said.

The tax rate increase nearly doubled the district’s bonding capacity to about $525 million, he said.

“Each school building the child goes to is very symbolic of the importance the community places on the welfare and education of these students, and they will now see school buildings that are very different from what they have never seen before,” Pollio said. said.

Members of the “No JCPS Tax Hike” petition committees said they were “very disappointed” with the state Supreme Court’s decision in a statement Thursday.

“However, we believe we are much further ahead than we would have been had we not challenged the tax hike,” the group said. “We would like to thank everyone who signed the petition and everyone who helped us in this effort.”

The petition committee noted that lawmakers significantly lowered the threshold for petition signatures to challenge school board tax increases to 5,000 registered voters from 10 percent of the number of voters in the last presidential election.

That lowered hurdle to challenge increases in property tax rates that are expected to generate more than 4% in new revenue will be a “challenge,” Pollio said.

“I believe that anything that makes it harder to do is problematic because again I’ll say it again: we’re not getting the funding that we need at the state level to meet the needs that we have. “, did he declare. “It’s not just a JCPS thing.”

The “No JCPS Tax Hike” petition committee also hopes to see more changes from Frankfort, such as allowing school tax increases to automatically pass before voters if the new rate is expected to generate more than 4% of revenue, according to its statement.

The group also said the decision provides guidance on improving security measures for future digital petition campaigns.

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Penny D. Jackson