Now It’s Up to the Voters

On Monday night the County Commission unanimously voted to approve several resolutions to hold a special referendum on raising the sales tax in the county to fund new school construction.

Williamson County Schools expects to add some 20,000 students in the next decade, and will need to build at least 17 new schools at a price of up to $500 million to accommodate that growth. The very-nearly 40,000 students enrolled in the district this year already are taxing the system’s capacity— some 9 schools are at or above capacity and 7 more are getting close.

If county voters approve the half-percent sales tax increase, it could put a $60 to $70 million dent in the cost. Unsavory, to elected leaders, options like large property tax increases or borrowing the money have been shot down as options of last resort. So, spearheaded by County Mayor Rogers Anderson, leaders have been trying to get creative.

The approval on Monday means a county-wide vote will be held within 75 to 90 days as required by state law.

”We are happy to get this done and think it is a good approach,” Anderson said. “People may say sales tax is regressive, but on the other hand 17 percent of sales tax collected in the county is actually from non-county residents.”

A yes-vote by the people now will raise the total county sales tax from 9.25 to 9.75 percent. The municipal governments, in their votes, agreed to split the increase fifty-fifty with the school system for three years. The revenue raised will go toward rural and general school debt service, another state law for its use. In the 2017 county budget, just shy of $63 million went to school debt service alone. This will free up other revenue for capital expenditures like buying land for and building schools.

After three years, the money raised by full half-percent will begin to revert back to the five municipalities that adopted the tax.

Franklin, Nolensville, Brentwood, Spring Hill and Thompson’s Station passed the tax increase in succession over the summer. Fairvew, already at the maximum state-allowed rate of 9.75 percent, could not participate. However, it agreed to give its portion of its adequate facilities tax, collected by the county, for the next decade.