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Teachers: Show us results or lower our taxes

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By Robin Bass

Representing hundreds of teachers that work and pay taxes in the city limits, Ruth Ann Sweazy voiced concerns to Taylorsville city commissioners last week over what she described as a lack of results when it comes to utilizing the $240,000 collected in occupational fees.

“I do not mind paying any tax as long as I know the money is being used,” said Sweazy to commissioners Thursday night. “It appears maybe the OLT (occupational license tax) was not needed if the projects are not going to be completed. People want to see results.”

Sweazy works as a kindergarten teacher at Taylorsville Elementary School and has served with the Kentucky Education Association at the local, district and state levels. More recently, she was elected to serve on the Kentucky Teachers Retirement Board of Trustees.

Sweazy said the results taxpayers want to see are corrections of drainage problems, sidewalk repairs and other general improvements commissioners have agreed are needed. So far, Sweazy said she has heard a lot of talk, but little action.

Taylorsville Mayor Don Pay agreed with Sweazy by saying that taxpayers do want to see results.

“We all want to see results,” said Pay. “It’s going too slow. I agree. The purpose of the OLT is to reinvest in the city and that is what we are trying to do, but patience is a hard thing to have sometimes.”

City Clerk Steve Biven said that while many items – including welcome signs, tree removal and lighting – have been discussed, commissioners have “never officially approved a list of projects.”

Despite the absence of an official list to work from, city employees have tackled the task of installing a new sidewalk on Main Cross. Biven said the project was first delayed when easements from the school district and a church were needed, and then by a contracted drainage study.

“The weather changed on us earlier than normal,” said Biven of the fall construction season. The cooler than normal temperatures caused many asphalt plants to close early and made it more difficult to work with concrete. “We haven’t had a true construction season yet,” he said.

Biven said it is only natural that the city would be garnering OLT revenue in the winter months, instead of spending revenue on construction. He also alluded to the large number of projects being added to the duties of Taylorsville’s small public works department. Currently one-part time and seven-full time employees work under Public Works Director Harold Compton. Compton is responsible for overseeing the daily operation of the water and sewer department, as well as road maintenance and mowing.

Pay said one option would be for the commission to contract out some of the improvement projects that need to be done.

“Need to see results”

Since the city’s .75 percent occupational tax began to be withdrawn from the paychecks of anyone working within the city limits January 1, 2008, Taylorsville has collected $240,690 in revenue. Of that amount, Sweazy estimated that Spencer County School District employees have contributed nearly $100,000.

Biven and Pay were reported in an April 11, 2007 issue of the Spencer Magnet, as projecting that $150,000 could be generated if the city imposed a 1.25 percent occupational tax.

After a lower rate of .75 percent was approved by commissioners, Pay had this to say in the July 4, 2007 edition of the Magnet: “As revenues in the general fund have declined, the cost of health care, retirement and gas prices have increased. Along with that is the state-mandated increase in hazardous duty cost which currently requires cities to pay 33.87 percent of police officers’ salaries to the state retirement system...We realized that if nothing were done, the city would not have enough to operate on within two years.”

That statement came on the heels of the city’s $470,000 budget surplus at the end of the 2007 fiscal year.

Commissioner Kathy Spears said she remembers taxpayers being promised more from the OLT than just covering rising healthcare and retirements. Spears said that her vote for the occupational tax would mean they could count on her to push for a list of improvements that the general fund could not afford.

“There’s enough money coming in from property taxes, insurance premium taxes and business licenses to pay for police, streets and fire,” said Spears. “I want the OLT used for what I said it would be used for. I didn’t want the money to go into the general fund and pay general fund items.”

Since the occupational tax brought in substantially more than the projected $150,000, Spears said she was in favor of lowering the tax from .75 percent to .5 percent – at the least.

According to Biven, the budget projected $200,000 in OLT revenue.

“We need to see results or let’s lower the tax,” said Sweazy.