By CLIFF HIGHTOWER
A countywide sales tax referendum seeking a half-percent sales tax increase cleared its first hurdle Tuesday night.
The county’s Tax Study Committee approved 2-1 sending the proposal on to the County Commission for a full vote. Commissioner Judy Herbert voted no. If approved by the full commission, voters would decide whether to increase the sales tax.
Commissioner Jeff Ford, who voted to approve the voter referendum, said a sales tax increase is beneficial in that it takes some of the burden off Williamson County homeowners. As business expands in the county, so does the amount of money coming in from sales taxes.
The next step for the potential countywide sales tax referendum will be to go before the Budget Committee for approval. It should then go before the County Commission next month for a full vote during its regularly scheduled meeting.
If approved, voters could be at the polls voting on the increase by the end of the summer.
County Mayor Rogers Anderson said after the meeting he will now be talking to the county’s city governments and Williamson County Schools to come up with a memorandum of understanding specifying that they would give their portion of the sales tax increase to the county.
“I will be having those conversations,” Anderson said.
County Commissioner Paul Webb floated the idea of increasing the sales tax last month during the County Commission meeting. The county is trying to find additional funding without raising property taxes to help fund almost $500 million in school construction projects over the next five years.
Anderson said getting the cities and school board to sign on is critical for the funding to work.
“I’d like to have some commitments from the cities and the schools,” he said.
Half of the sales tax collected in Williamson County goes to the city or county government where the money was spent and the other half goes to schools, Anderson said. He will ask that the school board allow its portion of the sales tax increase not go to the school system’s operational budget but instead be given to the county to use for capital projects.
The county needs those portions normally allocated to the school system in order for the plan to work, Anderson said. The county’s normal portion of the sales tax alone would not be enough to pay for the debt racked up from school construction.
Herbert, who voted against, said she had spoken with her constituents and most supported a wheel tax, but could not support a sales or property tax increase.
“I’m having a hard time with a sales tax,” she said.
County Finance Director Nena Graham said the sales tax increase from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent had advantages. Half the money could be used for debt service under a memorandum of understanding, and the other half could go to the school’s operation budget.
“These capital projects are coming, and that includes operational,” she said.
Cliff Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.