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Beechwood School Board Approves Tax Rate Increase Amid Concerns for Buildings

The Beechwood Board of Education approved a 3 percent increase to its tax rate on Monday.

The additional cost for taxpayers follows approval of a so-called "nickel tax" in May, which is designated for facility improvement and maintenance. That tax assesses an additional five cents per $100 value of property in the Ft. Mitchell school district boundaries.

In total, with the new 3 percent increase and the nickel tax, the tax rate goes up from 86.3 to 96.3, or roughly $100 per $100,000 value of property in the district boundaries.

Superintendent Mike Stacy explained that the average home in Ft. Mitchell is valued at $274,000, which would cost a taxpayer of such a home $274 per the new tax rate. He broke that down to $22.83 per month.

"Something has to be done about the old elementary school building," Stacy said. "We have chosen to take it on rather than kick it down the road. When I first came here, they told me the number one problem is the old building. It has been on the long range facility list for years. Now I have 1,477 students at this school. Their parents have entrusted me with their most precious assets, and my number one responsibility and priority is to keep them safe."

Stacy noted that the elementary school building was constructed in 1927, has leaked for years, and has a boiler that is nearly 70 years old. The pipes are old and have to be replaced, too, Stacy said.

"The biggest problem is that the building has a wooden infrastructure," Stacy said. "The state does not want to give money to a project where you are trying to fix a system that is not optimal.  I have done some research, and the state will match a project if you can get the second nickel tax passed in the community. It's not 100 percent that we will get it, but if we can't get the money, we can't do any project."

Stacy explained that projects go in steps, and he said the first step is to secure the money.    

"We've made no decisions yet," he said. "We have looked at cost estimates. If we can get the matching funds, then we will put together a committee that includes the community, and we will have meetings where we will gather input from the community on what the building will look like. The board will make the ultimate decisions, but they want to take into consideration what the community wants. We want community involvement."

Ft. Mitchell resident and business owner Brian Bishop said that he felt as though he was being hit with a "double whammy" with the tax increases. Bishop noted the district's 2017 facility plan and its inclusion of a $3 million theater.

"That's high," he said. "That's a lot of money!"

He asked that the community have a say in how their tax money will be spent.

Stacy has hosted meetings at Biggby's coffee shop on Dixie Highway to answer questions from residents and families.

"We don't have the perfect answer," Stacy said. "Nobody wants to raise taxes. But we've been presented with a challenge that we don't know how to answer. We have made the decision to solve this problem. I understand that if you do make this decision, you are not the most popular person. But the safety issue is becoming worse each year that we ignore it. School boards are in a difficult spot."

Other residents were also upset by the increase.

Alex Edmondson said that he and others should have been paying more attention to what was happening at school board meetings. He noted the facade of Beechwood's building and called it iconic. He said he doesn't want a renovation to alter it the way Covington Catholic High School's renovation changed its appearance.

Stacy said preliminary figures show that merely fixing the foundation and pipes in the old building would cost around $5 to 6 million. Tearing it down and rebuilding it would cost around $16 million.

To gut the building and rebuild, while saving the facade, would cost around $25 million, Stacy said.

The nickel tax proceeds will go towards buildings and infrastructure, while the regular tax rate increase will cover operational costs of the district.

Written by Patricia A. Scheyer, RCN contributor