Daviess County Public School employees filled City Hall chairs Tuesday night to protest eight ordinances read by Owensboro city commissioners in relation to the annexation of nine DCPS properties. The first reading of these ordinances was met with retaliation from teachers and support staff who will be forced to pay higher occupational taxes should these properties be approved for annexation.
As of Tuesday, the DCPS properties being forced into annexation by the City include Burns Middle and Elementary Schools, Highland Elementary School, Apollo High School, Daviess County High School, the soon-to-be Daviess County Middle School land not located within TIF boundaries at 6000 Fairview Dr. and the DCPS maintenance and transportation departments.
The outcry from DCPS employees stems from the fact that, if the annexation is approved by City commissioners, each employee working at any of the aforementioned locations will be forced to pay an additional .78 percent occupational tax that would be divided between the City and County governments.
This occupational tax increase follows on the heels of a county-wide occupational tax increase ordinance read by Daviess County Fiscal Court last week, which will raise all county employees’ occupational tax by .35 percent on Jan. 21, 2020, and an additional .30 in 2021.
“If we do nothing — let’s say this just stops — the [Fiscal Court tax increase] phased-in approach they spoke of is true,” said Commissioner Larry Conder. “It will go to .70 percent and in January 2021, it’s scheduled to go to 1 percent. That’s if we do nothing.”
Several DCPS employees referred to a 408 net percent occupational tax increase should the annexation pass, but Conder said the City is actually imposing a .78 percent occupational tax increase that will coincide with the County’s .65 percent increase. With the County’s nearly 300 percent tax increase being imposed, DCPS employees will see a combined net increase of 408 percent by 2021.
“The argument should be on that .78 percent,” Conder said. “The other piece is going to happen whether we do it, or someone else does it. That’s the bottom line right there.”
DCPS employees were visibly upset over having their taxes raised yet again in the wake of recent City property tax and County occupational tax increases.
This time, however, DCPS staff are taking both the annexation of their property and the tax increases personal, according to Superintendent Matt Robbins who says that’s because it isn’t the entire county’s, or the entire city’s, taxes going up — it’s solely the employees who work at these locations.
Robbins said his school district is upset about the financial hit that DCPS employees — and only select ones, at that — would take as a result of this annexation. Not only that, but Robbins said his district is upset about its property being stripped away from them.
“What the County did was for all County taxpayers, and it applies to the entire county, whereas the item on the City’s agenda only applies to Daviess County Public Schools,” Robbins said. “That’s the way annexes are — this was directly related to us as an entity.”
As for DCPS’s properties being forcibly annexed, Robbins called the move an undemocratic one.
“The fate of our property, in terms of taxation, can be taken without our consent. That doesn’t feel like a democratic process,” he said.
Others spoke out alongside Robbins about the City’s move, including cafeteria workers, transportation employees and teachers.
“It’s safe to say the City and Daviess County Public Schools got off on the wrong foot with this issue,” said DCPS attorney, Sean Land. “Six non-consensual properties, all owned by the Board of Education, are being annexed. What’s the problem with annexation? The burden will be entirely put upon the board’s employees. They have no voice, no direct contestation to this annexation.”
DCPS Construction Coordinator Bailey Bennett delivered a speech based on logistics, bringing a focus to the unequal pay cuts DCPS teachers and employees will face as a result of the annexation.
“Why these properties? Only the employees will feel the brunt of the blow of this decision,” Bennett said.
Bennett said the County’s 1 percent tax increase was capped at that amount, while no cap existed for the City’s tax increases it could bestow upon DCPS employees. In regard to the unfair pay cuts being experienced by the select DCPS employees residing at the schools and sites being annexed, Bennett acknowledged that certain teachers would bring more take-home pay than others.
“That is not OK,” Bennett said, finishing to applause.
However, City Manager Nate Pagan said there’s more to be considered within this argument, explaining that the selected schools chosen for annexation will benefit from having closer proximity to City-run safety personnel, such as Owensboro Police Department and Owensboro Fire Department.
Pagan said the 18-day notice Robbins said he was given about the annexation wasn’t necessarily a short time frame for this kind of deal. Moreover, the .78 percent tax increase won’t be up for negotiation in the future, Pagan said.
“I’ve made much more difficult deals in shorter periods of time,” Pagan said about the notice. “[As for the increase], we have to have a consistent rate across the City, so we can’t [change the percentage].”
Pagan called the .78 percent increase a “pretty good” investment in exchange for the school district’s close proximity to public safety.
“They’ll have quicker response. In some communities, other places where I’ve worked, they want hospitals to be within the City to ensure students have the highest level of response and the highest level of safety,” Pagan said. “It’s a surprise to see sometimes, with this kind of [response].”
Pagan said the annex is being based on where the selected buildings are located. AHS sits in a location that’s enveloped by City boundaries on all four sides, while BMS is surrounded on three sides. Over the next two years, HES and DCMS will soon relocate to an area residing in the Gateway TIF district, also residing within City limits.
“That’s why we did not recommend to do Meadow Lands or Deer Park because those areas would actually exacerbate the problem we’re trying to solve by getting rid of pockets because there’s just no developments,” Pagan said. “College View and Deer Park have county on three sides of them, so it didn’t make sense to annex those. The schools we’re annexing have development on [at least] three sides of them.”
During and after the meeting, several city commissioners brought up the argument, “Why haven’t we seen DCPS teachers at City commission meetings until tonight?” To that question, Robbins replied by saying he couldn’t control where and when DCPS employees decided to spend their time.
“It’s their right to be wherever they want to be,” he said.
Despite tensions running high with Mayor Tom Watson after the commission meeting was adjourned, Robbins said he was open and willing to discuss this agreement with the City, and said he was proud of the DCPS employees who spoke publicly at Tuesday’s meeting.
“There is an opportunity for us to work together in good faith,” Robbins said. “We like the City and like a lot of things that are happening in the City. Taking legal action would be a last resort — nobody benefits from that. We’re upset with the action, but we’re not upset with the City. Our goal is to protect our employees.”
Read Owensboro Times original story on the potential annexation for more details on the City’s plan.
Also read Owensboro Times coverage of DCPS Superintendent Matt Robbins’ press conference, where he addressed the media regarding what he called the City’s forcible annexation proposal.