Greenup School Board

Board chair Mary Kay McGinnis-Ruark, left, and Superintendent Sherry Horsley.

LLOYD The fate of a utility tax for Greenup County schools is in the hands of voters after the district's board of education approved placing the issue on the November ballot Monday.

The step came after opponents of the tax completed a petition drive that forced the board to make the decision.

State law permits school boards to enact utility taxes but then gives district residents the option of putting it to the vote if petition signatures show sufficient opposition.

The drive collected more than 2,000 signatures, about two and a half times as many as needed.

Because the issue will be on the November ballot, there is no cost to the district. The board could have chosen a special election but would have had to pay the cost, which would have been several thousand dollars.

Placing the tax on the November ballot is the right step because the district will benefit if it passes, and if voters strike it down, “we don't have anything to lose,” board member Carl Cotton said.

The 3 percent tax would be levied on all gas, electric, water, telephone, cell phone, cable TV and satellite TV bills of district residents.

The board had enacted the tax in May, saying it spread the burden of financing schools to those who rent their homes, rather than just those who own property.

The board's district's next step is mounting a campaign to convince voters the tax is right for the district.

The tax would bring in an estimated $750,000 per year, and intended uses for the revenue include school safety, continuation of universal preschool, and offsetting state budget cuts that have slashed school funding, Superintendent Sherry Horsley said.

The board also has pledged to cut property taxes once it starts collecting utility tax receipts.

“We just need to be up front and honest and give the reasons we need this tax, and to show that to lower property taxes we need to have the utility tax,” she said. “That our community is one of 15 out of 173 districts that don't have one should say a lot to people,” she said.

Voters may not adequately understand that school districts have no other options that utility and property taxes, board chair Mary Kay McGinnis-Ruark said.

An informational campaign would cover all those issues, Horsley said.

The board also tentatively settled on wording for the ballot issue. Subject to approval by the county clerk's office, the ballot question will be “Are you for or against a utility gross receipts tax of 3 percent within the Greenup County school district?”

Mike James is The Independent's education reporter. He has covered news in Northeast Kentucky since 1996.