Several well-known adages come to mind when discussing efforts to establish a 3 percent tax on utilities to support the Fairview Independent School District. They include, but are not limited to, “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” and “the third time is the charm.”
When voters in the four Westwood precincts that make up the Fairview Independent School District go to the polls Tuesday to determine the fate of the latest attempt to impose a utilities tax, members of the Fairview school board, school administrators and many Fairview students are hoping that the third time will be the charm and that voters will decide not to rescind the tax the school board imposed on Dec. 26. We are hoping for the same thing because we think every school district in the state needs a utility tax to fund quality education, and Fairview and Greenup County are the only school districts in northeast Kentucky that do not currently have a tax on utilities.
The ways Kentucky school districts can raise revenue are so limited that we think a utilities tax is absolutely essential for the long-term survival of the Fairview district. While Fairview school officials are not saying that they will petition to become part of the Boyd County School District if the tax fails, district residents should be aware that they is about the only option the district has if it can’t generate enough revenue to provide essential services, and with state funding declining because of Kentucky’s revenue woes, it is getting extremely difficult for a small school district to make ends meet.
Just ask the residents of Harrodsburg, Maysville and now Monticello what happens when independent school districts can no longer pay their bills. In recent years, the Harrodsburg Independent School District merged with the Mercer County School Districts and the Maysville Independent merged with the Mason County District because of a lack of funds. The state Department of Education assumed day-to-day management of the Monticello Independent School District in January when the small district lacked the funds to meet payroll. At the end of the school year, Monticello schools will become part of the Wayne County School District. Going back almost a half century, the Catlettsburg Independent School District became part of the Boyd County School District.
We are not saying the same thing will happen in Fairview, but the Maysville, Harrodsburg and Monticello districts were all about the same size as the Fairview district, and like Fairview, all three were praised by parents and students for their small class sizes and excellent teachers.
While letters in this newspaper have repeatedly said those on fixed incomes and the poor and elderly cannot afford to pay 3 percent more for their utilities, but the poor and elderly in districts throughout the state manage to pay the tax without having their lights turned off and losing their heat in winter. Westwood residents can do the same.
Westwood voters overwhelmingly voted to repeal the utilities tax in 2005 and 2007, but going back further, they also rejected the tax in the 1990s. So in a sense, Tuesday will be the fourth time Fairview residents have voted on the utilities tax. When they last went to the polls in November of 2007, the voted to recall the tax by a lopsided margin of 744 to 329.
Will the outcome be any different this time around? While we have our doubts, we hope Westwood residents will surprise us Tuesday by making a strong statement to support the continuation of the small school district and assure the restoration of its aging high school. The Fairview district has a lot of things to recommend it, but it lacks the money it needs to reach its full potential. Westwood voters can do their part by agreeing to add 3 percent more per month to the cost of their utilities to support their school system. In our book, that’s not too much to ask.
And if voters again decide to repeal the tax by a lopsided margin — as many a predict they will — then another old adage comes to mind, the one about kicking a dead horse.
If the tax is repealed, Fairview board members can conclude that voters are never going to support a utilities tax and map out the future of the district accordingly — a future that looks far from promising without additional revenue.
Frankly, we’re hoping Westwood residents surprise — no, make that shock — us Tuesday by refusing to repeal a tax that the elected members of the school board have repeatedly said is necessary.