By MARK COOK
County Mayor Rogers Anderson and Budget Director Nena Graham made the last stop Thursday morning on a tour asking the county’s municipalities to agree to fund school construction with the proceeds of a .5% increase in the sales tax, should voters approve.
Speaking before Brentwood officials, Anderson and Graham said that the money generated in a three-year deal with the cities — about $60 million — would be used to put a dent in an estimated need for $525 million in schools expansion and new construction to serve a student population that is expected to rise from 38,000 to 50,000 during the next 15 years.
Franklin, Nolensville, and Spring Hill already have agreed to return their portion of a sales tax increase to the county. Thompson’s Station is expected to consider the request at its September board meeting. Anderson said Fairview already levies sales taxes at the top rate of 9.75%, but has agreed to temporarily remit a portion of that to the schools projects.
The deal would last for three years, and afterward the new money would accrue to the cities.
“You’re the last of our journey,” Anderson told those assembled in Brentwood.
The Brentwood City Commission will formally vote on the proposed arrangement at their Aug. 28 meeting.
“I was hoping to get this on the September County Commission agenda,” Rogers said. “I can’t do that if all the cities are not on board.”
City Commissioner Mark Gorman wanted to know how the county would pay to operate the new schools once they are built.
“There’s still going to be a shortfall,” he said. “Do we know what that shortfall is?”
Graham said those figures are still a work in progress, and said that a lawsuit filed last week by the Home Builders Association of Middle Tennessee against a newly-imposed education impact fee had changed the math.
“The lawsuit kind of put a damper on that,” she said.
Anderson and Graham admitted that the sales tax plan was just to get school capital spending “over a hump,” but noted that the school system also will get a share of the new sales tax, though the schools like the cities agreed to divert the new money for three years to the building fund.
Anderson said there is still uncertainty in state funding.
“Each year we are penalized for our ability to pay for things,” Anderson said of the state’s formula for sharing school funds.
Should voters not support the sales tax increase, Anderson said the only alternatives are other taxes or asset sales.
“If this fails, we’ve got the wheel tax, the hotel-motel tax, or the property tax,” Anderson said. “Or we could get out of the parks and rec business, or sell the hospital.”
The sales tax plan would raise about $60 million, the current approximate cost of one high school.