Candidate Who Authored Tax Increase Without Vote Now Says He Opposes It

A Central School Board member who led the fight to raise property taxes without a vote of the people in May is now running as though he never led that fight. 

Mr. Phil Graham, who is running for the seat from District 4 in a special election Nov. 13, now says, “As your school board member, I’ll never support a tax without a vote of the people, and I’ll fight for wise financial investments to give our students the education they deserve.”

However, he took the opposite position in May when it mattered.

Will Easley, one of the founding members of the Central School Board, resigned from the board in January. Mr. Will was a long-time advocate for the taxpayer and fought to make sure taxes could not be raised without a vote of the people. 

The state Constitution requires that property taxes be reassessed every four years.  At that time, millage rates automatically roll backward to make sure taxes do not go up because of reassessment.

However, each governmental body that can by a two-thirds’ vote keep property tax millage rates the same and thereby raise property taxes without a vote of people.

Will Easley fought for years to make sure the Central School Board never voted to roll forward and thus raise property taxes.

For several years, one member of the board, Dr. Keith Holmes, has advocated that property taxes be rolled forward without a vote of the people.  When Will Easley resigned, the Central School Board voted to replace him with local CPA Phil Graham.  Mr. Graham allied himself with Dr. Holmes on the roll forward issue and they began to work to get the Central School Board to pass it.  With a seven-member school board, it would take five votes to create the necessary two-thirds vote.

The Central School Board held two hearings on the roll forward, and Dr. Holmes and Phil Graham each spoke at length in favor of the tax increase.

A number of Central residents spoke against the tax increase and a lesser number spoke in favor of it.

Now Mr. Graham is in the midst of an election campaign, and his opponent, Kim Powers, has made an issue of his vote to raise property taxes.

Despite his taking a lead on the roll forward issue, his campaign literature claims he opposes any tax increase without a vote of the people.

In one campaign piece, Mr. Graham says the people voted for the tax increase when they voted for the initial tax back in 2016.

Ms. Powers said Mr. Graham is not being forthright about his position.  “The truth is, the Central School Board has never before voted to roll property taxes forward.  Mr. Will Easley made sure of that.”

“Now that Mr. Graham is on the school board, he and Dr. Holmes worked together to get the board to vote 5-2 in favor of the tax increase,” Ms. Powers said.

“The voters of Central did not have the opportunity to vote on this tax increase, which will amount to $3,750,000 in higher property taxes over the next five years,” she said. “This is on top of the higher property taxes BREC has just approved without a vote of the people. I spoke against that tax increase as well.  As your school board member, I will make sure that no taxes will be approved in this back door fashion.  If a tax is needed, we must submit it to the voters to see if they agree.  That’s what our system is about. Bear in mind that the school board is sitting on a big surplus.  So why raise taxes?”

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