Clark County Fiscal Court on Wednesday approved the first reading of an ordinance that would set property tax rates slightly higher. The taxes will be billed in November for the 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
The court commonly chooses between a compensating rate, which would give the county about what it raises the previous calendar year, or at a rate that would give the county a 4-percent bump in revenue from the previous year.
The options are rates of 8.9 (or 89 cents per $1,000 of property value) or 9.2. The rate last year was 8.8.
The owner of a home valued at $100,000 paid $880 in 2011 and would pay $890 or $920 in 2012, depending upon the rate the Fiscal Court chooses.
The options are calculated based on information from the Department of Local Government Division of Financial Services and the projected value of property within the county. The Fiscal Court has traditionally chosen the compensating rate — the court last voted for the higher rate in 2008 — but either choice would keep Clark County among the lowest in Kentucky.
“Clark County has normally taken the compensating rate,” Clark County Judge Executive Henry Branham said. “A few years we have take the increased rate when we had lean years.”
Compared to neighboring counties, Clark provides services with just a real property tax rate, while others may also require added ambulance, fire or soil conversation taxes.
Bourbon County’s rate is 13.6 in taxes to provide the same services, including a 12.9 rate on property tax. Bath County (29.2), Fayette (25.39) and Montgomery (22.8) dwarf the rate set by Clark County. Only Powell County remains in the single digit with a 9.8 rate.
If Clark elected to go with the increased 9.2 rate, it would still be lower than surrounding counties.
The real property tax accounts for nearly 22 percent of the total budget, the largest chunk of the operating costs. Payroll tax accounts for the next highest portion at 19.8 percent.
If the court chooses the increased rate, the additional revenue would be used as a rainy day fund or to fund an unanticipated item, Branham said. Should the court elect to go that route, the increased available funds would be an estimated $66,560, which would account for just .41 percent of the county’s nearly $16 million budget.
While the traditionally low rates make maintaining the county’s operation a challenge, the lower rates make Clark County a more appealing place to live, the judge said.
“We struggle; balancing the burden on property owners with the services we provide,” Branham said. “Business and residential people who work in say Fayette or other counties want to live in Clark because of the lower tax rate. That’s a draw.”
The court approved the first reading of the ordinance, electing to go with the compensating rate.
Commissioners Rick Smith and Vanessa Rogers voted to approve the measure while JoEllen Reed voted against the ordinance, asking if the previous year’s rate of 8.8 could be maintained. Branham answered that the fiscal court could set the rate wherever it wants.
“The economy needs to drastically improve,” Reed said. “I can not vote to put any more tax burden on our citizens who are already struggling.”
A lower rate than the compensating rate would leave the county with a lower operating budget than the previous year, however.
In other business, the court also:
— Discussed the bids for the new Emergency Operating Center. A public meeting will be 6 p.m. Aug. 28 in the fiscal court room to reveal the plans for the EOC to the public.
— Received the petition from Richard Crouch, who represented a group looking to place on the November ballot a vote for returning the court to a seven-member court with magistrates from its current three-commissioner format. The group collected 1,800 signatures. It needed just 1,200.
Crouch thanked the court, but Branham thanked Crouch.
“We thank you for taking part in your county government,”¿Branham said. “It is your God-given right.”
— Appointed Debbie Barnes to the Clark County/Winchester Heritage Commission.