Williamson County is scrambling to fund its fast-growing school district, and County Mayor Rogers Anderson said this week that raising the sales tax is a way to help get the job done.
Anderson made his pitch Wednesday in delivering his annual State of the County address during a Williamson, Inc. luncheon at the Franklin Marriott Cool Springs hotel.
Raising the sales tax is “an alternative to relying solely on the residential property tax,” Anderson said. The county’s recently approved 2017-2018 operating budget did not include a property tax increase.
The student population in Williamson County has skyrocketed by 32 percent since the 2007-2008 school year. The 44 current school sites, several of which have portables, do not have the space to meet the projected growth in the next 10 years, Anderson said.
Anderson said county officials have been considering various sources of revenue.
Last year, the county commission approved an educational impact fee to also help pay for schools. One-half of the fee went into effect in March, with full implementation set for September. The fee is assessed only to new home construction and is projected to generate about $25 million annually for new school construction. However, it has met with some resistance, Anderson said.
“Of the $2.5 million collected since March, approximately $350,000 has been ‘paid under protest’ by some of our home builders,” he said.
Anderson’s sales tax proposal would involve raising the current local sales tax to 2.75 percent, the maximum local sales tax allowed by the state, from the current 2.25 percent. The state sales tax rate is currently 7 percent, so Williamson County’s combined sales tax rate would be 9.75 percent.
Final approval of the local sales tax hike would be left to voters through a referendum.
The sales tax increase would result in an additional $60 million in the first three years that would be used solely for school capital expenditures, Anderson said. County officials have requested that cities in the county agree to return their portion of the sales tax increase back to the county to be used for debt payments for a three-year period.
Anderson noted that sales tax is paid by visitors and tourists, not just county residents. Williamson County tourism has ranked sixth in the state, with $8.5 million in local tourism tax revenues annually.
Pressures surrounding funding for the county’s growing student population has led to a movement in Brentwood to form its own school district.