A small group of community members met to provide input on a proposed tax increase. | Photo by Olivia Krauth

Jefferson County homeowners will pay more in property taxes after the local school board approved a tax hike for the first time in five years.

Tuesday night, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted to raise the property tax rate to 72.5 cents per $100 of assessed value — up around 3 percent from the current rate of 70.4 cents. Rates will go up in October, the district previously stated.

With the increased rate, Jefferson County Public Schools will receive $20 million in new revenue, a district spokeswoman said. In total, the district will generate an estimated $510.5 million in property taxes this fiscal year.

Of that, around $37.9 million will go towards upgrading facilities and building new schools. The remaining amount will go towards JCPS’s general fund for its racial equity plan, incentive pay for priority school teachers and student intervention programs.

The change equals around an extra $21 a year for someone who owns a $100,000 house.

In the face of many cuts, it’s “imperative” the district finds funding for its projects, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio told the board. 

Marty Pollio

Funding will go to initiatives that “are going to change the trajectory of this district and the students in it and, I think, make us a model district in the future,” Pollio said.

Before the hearing, Pollio said the board has to make “courageous decisions that are difficult” when it comes to raising taxes for the district.

A handful of community members commented on the proposed increase in a hearing before the vote.

A former school board member said she was “appalled” when she heard the board was not bringing in as much as they could. She asked the board to use the full 4 percent tax increase allowed under the law so students don’t have to go without things they need.

A school board can’t make its revenue increase more than 4 percent in one year, a district news release said. JCPS did not take the full 4 percent twice during the past six or seven years, Pollio said last week.

Last year, the board voted to reduce the tax rate to 70.4 cents from 70.8 cents. The new rate is the highest since at least the 2015-16 school year.

Chris Harmer, chair of Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, said the property tax has remained relatively flat while other sources of revenue, like per-pupil funding from the state, dropped. “Now is the time to recoup” those lost dollars, Harmer said.

Community member Theresa Camoriano said she was against an increase because the district “hasn’t been a good steward of the money we’ve given them.” She said the district wastes money on secret settlements over abuse of children and forced bussing.

A monthslong audit of JCPS criticized the district’s limited attempts to raise new revenue, particularly in the face of an estimated $1.3 billion in facility needs. Three unused revenue streams — a 4 percent tax rate, a utility tax and a nickel tax — were specifically mentioned in the audit.

“I take the audit very seriously. My staff is taking it very seriously. We take the corrective action plan very seriously. If that’s going to be identified for us, we’re going to make sure that we take actions to address that,” Pollio said.

JCPS plans on building four new schools in the coming years to meet student capacity and replace deteriorating buildings, according to the district’s facilities plan. A new middle school will cost an estimated $30.7 million, while three new elementary schools do not have cost estimates listed in the plan.

Several other schools are due for major renovations, including new HVAC and interior fixes, with each school costing an estimated $8 million to $65 million to renovate.

The facilities changes have been in the works for about a year, Pollio said. Some of the facilities, including the ESL Newcomer Academy and early childhood centers, opened in recent weeks. The changes were planned “long before” the district relinquished its $15 million Head Start grant in May, Pollio said.