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[January 15, 2013]
Back on the ballot
WESTWOOD, Jan 15, 2013 (The Daily Independent - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- Voters will decide the fate of a 3 percent utilities tax in the Fairview Independent School District.
About a week after opponents gathered enough signatures on petitions to put the tax on the ballot, the district's board of education on Monday declined to rescind it.
That means there will be a special election to decide. Boyd County clerk Debbie Jones said last week the election will be Feb. 19.
Since then, support for the tax, which the board enacted late last year, has poured in via email, telephone and personal contact, board member Rick Tackett said. The board was unanimous in its agreement to retain the tax.
"Based on what we've seen, there has been a great show of support," board chairman John Burke said.
The meeting was preceded by an open house at Fairview High School where board members made their case to voters. If the tax survives the vote, it will be used entirely for a complete renovation of the high school and addition of a middle-school wing, Burke said.
"I hope we can make the public aware of the current condition of the school, the structural damage, the outdated electrical wiring, the old boilers and the window air conditioners that require almost daily maintenance," he said.
The district will go ahead with a $2 million plan to replace windows, lighting, floors and air units, but the school needs much more, he said.
Many attendees said they would vote in favor of the tax. "I hope they get every penny they can get," said Vicki Clark, a 1980 Fairview graduate with four grandchildren in the system. "It doesn't look any different than in 1980 when I was here." Roger Lemaster, a 1968 graduate, said the issue rightfully should go to a vote, and he plans to vote for the tax. "We need a long-term plan or we will lose our identity and be just a dot in Boyd County," he said.
Opposing the tax is Garland Conley, who said he can't afford to pay. "I can't even afford my medicine. The people who want to fix it up, why doesn't the money come out of their pocket " he said.
But Tyler Preston, son of board member Jeff Preston, said many Westwood residents, himself included, already pay utilities taxes, and since Fairview doesn't have one, they go to other districts. He said he pays taxes on water, cable, electric and telephone bills and displayed bills with the amounts.
The chances of the tax surviving a vote had appeared dim after opponents collected 366 valid signatures on a petition that required less than half that many to put it on the ballot. Superintendent Bill Musick had sent a notice to the county clerk's office that he believed the board would let it die.
The board's about-face took him by surprise, but he attributed it to the expressions of community support. "The board had a lot of responses from a lot of groups and answered a lot of questions," he said.
Westwood's identity, bound up in its schools, is at stake, he said. "Once you take the school out of the community, the community is gone," he said.
The district will have to pay for the election, which Jones has estimated will cost between $6,000 and $7,000.
District voters turned away similar levies in 2005 and 2007.
The tax would be levied on all utilities, including gas, water, electric, telephone, satellite and cable TV.
The board enacted the tax last month, but state law allows voters to step in if opponents can gather enough petition signatures.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2652.
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