Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

February 18, 2013

Westwood voters hit polls Tuesday

Special election to decide on utilities tax in Fairview school district

Mike James
The Independent

WESTWOOD — Voters in the Fairview school district will be going to the polls Tuesday in a special election to decide the fate of a utilities tax in the district.

Polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the district, which encompasses the Fairview, Buckley and Westwood precincts and parts of the Central, Hoods Creek and Millseat precincts.

The election was scheduled after opponents of the tax circulated petitions. In fact, opponents circulated petitions twice, once in early January and again earlier this month. The second petition, with somewhat different wording, was the result of a compromise between opponents and the school board after the board challenged the first one in court.

On the most recent petition, the county clerk’s office verified 313 signatures, which was more than twice as many as required under state regulations.

The tax issue has followed a winding path to the polls. Enacted by the school board in late December, the levy would collect 3 percent on all utility bills in the district, including electric, gas, water, sewer, telephone, cell phone and cable.

When school districts enact such a tax, state law enables voters to step in if enough petition signatures are submitted.

Opponents circulated a petition early in January but for a day or so it didn’t look like the petition would be necessary because Superintendent Bill Musick notified county clerk Debbie Jones that the board probably would rescind the tax by the end of the month.

But board members quickly denied that and said they would decide what to do at a special meeting. The board didn’t take any formal action on the issue at the meeting, leaving the tax in effect unless voters shoot it down.

Shortly after that, the district filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction to halt the election, claiming the petition was flawed because its language was ambiguous.

In a court hearing the district and members of the committee that circulated the petition agreed on a second petition with language changed to clarify that signing it meant supporting the recall election.

The agreement left the election scheduled for Tuesday, a date based on the certification date of the original petition.

The district says it wants the tax to refurbish schools. Opponents are skeptical of that and also say many Westwood residents can’t afford to pay it.

The district will have to pay for the election, which Jones has estimated will cost between $6,000 and $7,000

The election will mark the third time the district has attempted to pass a utilities tax; the other two attempts in 2005 and 2007 were defeated by voters.

MIKEā€ˆJAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.