By CLIFF HIGHTOWER
The Williamson County Commission is looking at a magic trick of sorts to fund school expansions and could ask voters to approve a sales tax hike while it moves road tax revenues.
The commission is set to vote Monday on two different funding proposals that could possibly guarantee that expansions at Brentwood high and middle schools and Page high and middle schools get done.
“We’ve got creative,” said County Commissioner Dwight Jones, who is on the county’s budget committee.
Two measures will come before the County Commission Monday. The first is a resolution for a referendum to be held asking voters to support a half-cent sales tax. The second resolution asks that the county take three cents from the 5-cent road fund and divert it to fund the county’s debt.
If these measure go through, and if voters decide to raise the county sales tax by a half-cent, that would provide the adequate funding to pay the bonds on the four schools’ expansion projects, county officials said.
Commissioner Paul Webb is introducing the sales tax increase resolution and Commissioner Jeff Ford introduced the road fund resolution.
Ford said taking three cents from the road fund would mean around $600,000 annually. That could help offset the cost the construction of the schools, which will be paid for through bonds, or, in a sense, by loans.
Several county officials have said they would not support raising property taxes this year and Jones reiterated that Thursday.
“I don’t think we’ve got 13 votes for a property tax,” he said.
But taking a portion of the road fund from property taxes is one fix and raising sales tax by a half cent is another.
Webb said Thursday he thought the referendum was the best route to go at this point. It may be the quickest way to get the money needed for construction.
“We would see revenue coming in as early as November,” he said. The importance of that is it would be about the same time period schools would need to start the first phase of construction, he added.
The measure would need some negotiation with cities to agree to give up their portion of the sales tax for an indefinite time.
If the county takes from road funding, that could mean a slight property tax increase for those who live in cities, Ford said. Currently, the incorporated county pays $2.15 per $100 of assessed property value and five cents goes toward roads. City residents, however, do not have to pay that additional nickel, Ford said.
He gave an example of Brentwood, where property tax is currently $2.10 per $100 of assessed value. Brentwood homeowners under the plan would be raise to $2.13, paying slightly more to cover the portion being moved to fund schools.
The state passed a private act allowing some of that five cents to be diverted to other areas.
Ford said he thinks roads would not suffer from the money being diverted because the county road fund is set to start receiving $1.1 million annually from the Governor’s IMPROVE act signed last week into law. The IMPROVE act raises gas and diesel taxes to pay for road improvements statewide.
Ford said he does not see this as choosing one or the other. With the amount of projects needed for school growth, the county will need revenue sources, he said.
“I think we’ll end up needing both,” he said. “I like the sales tax option because it lets the voters decide.”
Jones said he liked the idea as well about getting it before the public and letting them make the choice.
“If they vote it down, it tells us they don’t want a tax increase,” he said.
Cliff Hightower can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.