The City of Owensboro held a first reading Tuesday night to repeal a previously approved ordinance declaring the City’s intent to annex nine Daviess County Public School properties into the City of Owensboro. This new ordinance of repeal — if voted into approval on Thursday — will undercut any and all agreements that have previously been made between both City and County governments and DCPS.
This repeal comes after two months of tension that has escalated between City officials and DCPS educators and staff members. The original ordinance, which declared Owensboro’s intent to annex the DCPS properties and, in turn, force DCPS employees at the nine locations to pay higher occupational taxes, was approved through a unanimous 5-0 vote on June 4.
In dealing with the aftermath of the vote, which caused division between school employees and the City, Mayor Tom Watson began to reconsider the decision he and his city commissioners had made.
In a public statement issued by the mayor at Tuesday’s special called city commission meeting, Watson said he took full responsibility for the events that had transpired after approving the annexation. However, he said, he vocalized his worry about annexing these properties from the beginning.
“When the idea was brought to me, I voiced my concerns, as I believed it to be very bold, there was a short time to get it accomplished, and it would be very controversial,” he said.
Watson said there were two thoughts that made this annexation effort worth considering. First, the City’s limitations for future development and growth, would require an annexation to happen.
“As you have heard me say many times, the City is basically landlocked, with the river to the north, no contiguous land west to annex, south of Sam’s is a floodplain, and east is where the TIF is located,” Watson said. “As elected officials and staff, we are constantly looking for ways to grow the City and an aggressive annexation policy is a must — especially with the looming uncertainty of our pension responsibilities.”
Secondly, Watson said, his goal was to “even the playing field over a larger group to spread out the costs of running a progressive city.”
“Having more folks contribute to the City for services they enjoy,” he said. “This was never intended to divide the community, but to have everyone contribute as equally as possible. Obviously, this did not happen as intended.”
Watson said his staff, at the request of the commission, was directed to compromise with each group involved to make the City’s efforts “as palatable as possible, while still keeping our original goal in mind — increase the City’s assets through annexation.”
As Watson’s staff worked to come to an agreement with DCPS, the mayor said, in the end, he and his commissioners agreed to hold off on this annexation opportunity and “prepare for the unknown.”
“In the end, sometimes a bad compromise is worse than no deal at all,” he said. “I believe it serves no purpose to get in the weeds pertaining to the discussions leading to this conclusion, and there will be no further comments on this matter.”
Commissioner Larry Maglinger, who will not be able to attend Thursday’s second reading and vote, stated publicly that he would be voting in favor of the repeal.
DCPS issued a statement regarding the City’s decision to repeal the annexation on Tuesday as well.
“This was a very complex issue that required careful study and analysis on the part of both the City and DCPS,” DCPS Superintendent Matt Robbins said in the release. “Both parties were committed to ensuring that the process would lead to a successful outcome for all.”
Due to the City’s decision to repeal the annexation, Robbins announced that everything would revert to its original status, meaning employees’ occupational tax rates and emergency response jurisdictions would remain unchanged. The Daviess County Sheriff’s Office and Daviess County Fire Departments would continue to serve DCPS schools, and no teacher or staff member working at these nine locations would be forced to pay higher taxes.
However, DCPS stated, a separate occupational tax increase enforced by Daviess County Fiscal Court would still take effect on January 1, 2020, after which DCPS employees would pay a .7 percent higher tax rate. An additional .3 percent tax increase would take effect on January 1, 2021.