Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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January 20, 2013

Kenneth Hart: Westwood tax choice easy one: 1/20/13

ASHLAND — Boyd County sure can be a schizophrenic place at times, one where vast differences in the majority views of a community can be found within a range of just a few miles.

Take, for example, the stark contast in attitudes of the residents of two of the county’s three school districts.  

In the Boyd County school system, folks were given the opportunity to build a new, state-of-the-art $42 million high school to replace an outdated facility that opened its doors in 1957. They responded by willingly ponying up the additional local tax dollars it took to make the new school a reality.

But in the Fairview school system, which serves the unincoporated community of Westwood, residents are fighting tooth and toenail to keep from having to shell out  a few extra dollars a year to make basic upgrades to a crumbling old high school building that’s desperately in need of them — or to provide the district with the funds to eventually build a new high school.

The battle over the proposed 3 percent utilities tax, one which school officials say would cost the average household about $150 a year, isn’t a new one. The board voted in 2005 ago to enact one; residents petitioned to get it on the ballot and voted it down. Then they tried again in 2007 and again it was petitioned to go on the ballot with the same results. Last month, the board voted again to impose the levy, and, once again, residents responded with a petition drive to force a referendum on the matter.

Fairview Superintendent Bill Musick initially said the board would drop the tax rather than waste Boyd County taxpayers’ money on an election, the results of which seemed like a foregone conclusion. But, the board ultimately decided to forge ahead with the vote, with members citing calls in support of the tax they had received.

The board is actually challenging the latest petition in court, another example of how important they believe the issue to be to the school system.

I certainly hope it passes this time if it goes to a vote. But, to be honest, I’m not holding out a lot of hope it will. The odds of folks voting a tax on themselves are always marginal at best, and, in these economically uncertain times in which we live decrease those even further.

I’m not about to tell the residents of Westwood how they should vote on this matter. That’s their decision to make. However, I do believe they need to be aware of what the consequences rejecting the levy would be  — nothing less than the eventual demise of the school system.

If the tax is voted down, the state isn’t going to sit back and  allow students to continue go to school in buildings that are falling down around their ears forever. Eventually, it would step in and order the district closed and its students placed in outlying school systems.

Other than its school system, there’s not a lot that distinguishes Westwood as a community — its excellent fire department and its boys club being the others — and it would certainly be a shame to see it lose such a large chunk of its identity.

But make no mistake, that’s what will happen if residents aren’t willing to dig a little deeper into their pockets, even though times are hard, and commit to providing the district with the additional financial support it needs to bring its infrastructure up to code for now and the future.

To me, the choice seems like a pretty easy one. But it’s not one I can make for anybody.

KENNETH HART can be reached at khart@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2654.

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