Friday, November 5, 2004

Southgate to vote on tax money for schools

District may consider merger

By William Croyle
Enquirer staff writer

SOUTHGATE - The general election is over, but residents in this small community have one more vote to cast.

When: Dec. 28, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Who and Where: The roughly 1,360 registered voters in precincts A & B (Southgate School and Southgate fire station) are eligible to vote. Voters in precincts C & D who are part of the Campbell County School District cannot vote.
Residents in precincts A & B who are not registered voters can register by Nov. 28 and participate in the election.
A 41 percent tax increase levied on property owners by the Southgate Independent School District will be put before voters Dec. 28.

School officials say the life of the 102-year-old district, which serves 166 kids in grades K-8, is on the line.

"If this fails, conversations will begin immediately in January with other districts (to merge)," said Superintendent Curtis Hall.

Opponents of the tax increase say it's the livelihoods of Southgate citizens that are on the line.

"I feel sorry for the people on a fixed income," said Bob Speier. "I've talked to people who have no idea how they are going to pay this."

Speier was one of seven residents who went door to door, getting enough signatures to put the tax question to a vote.

The school board passed the increase Sept. 9, raising taxes from $5.22 to $7.38 per $1,000 of assessed value. That's $216 on a $100,000 home. The tax would add $150,000 to the district's $1 million budget. The additional money would be used to buy new computers and raise teacher salaries, which are the second-lowest among the state's 176 districts.

If the tax levy fails, Hall said, the district will merge with one of the three contiguous districts - Campbell County, Fort Thomas or Newport - probably by June 30.

Jeff Paul has two children at Southgate School and was elected Tuesday to the school board. He is leading "Citizens for Southgate," a group that supports the tax. Their goal, Paul said, is to educate residents on what the tax increase and a merger would mean.

"I liked the small atmosphere, individual attention and not getting lost in the system," said Paul, a 1982 Southgate graduate. "People need to decide if they want to keep a local community school or be part of something bigger."

Speier isn't sure a merger would be necessary if the issue fails.

"We still feel if Southgate wanted to keep this school open, there are things they can do, like pass a utility tax or have better fund-raisers," said Speier.

Hall said the district has cut costs as much as possible, amounting to a $92,000 annual savings. He said a utility tax, which the Campbell County and Fort Thomas districts have, would not generate enough revenue.

Residents have received their tax bills with the increase factored in and have to pay those bills. The money from the increase will be put in an escrow account by the school. If the tax passes, the district keeps the money. If it fails, the district has to return it to the taxpayers.


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