PHOTO: Dr. Mike Looney, left and Matt Largen watch a screen inside the Williamson County Administrative complex as voting results for the sales tax referendum pour in. Mayor Rogers Anderson is in the foreground. / Photo by Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
On Tuesday evening, ballots were counted as citizens in Williamson County voted overwhelmingly in favor of a measure that will increase the county sales tax to fund the construction of new schools.
With early voting and 43 polling locations, 8,155 voted for the sales tax increase, while 4,183 voted against it. Voter turnout was at 8.79 percent.
County officials and business leaders expressed shock at the margin at which the measure passed.
“I’m surprised that it’s nearly two to one,” said Williamson, Inc. Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer Matt Largen said.
“But I think this reflects the conversations we had over the last month with community leaders, to educate them on what it is, what it means, and why it’s so important for our community,” he said.
“The real winners in this are the schools,” county Mayor Rogers Anderson said.
He also thanked the chamber, business PAC and the county realtor association for working to educate the community on the vote.
Williamson County Schools Superintendent Dr. Mike Looney was among the officials at the Williamson County Administrative complex on Tuesday night waiting for the ballots to be counted.
As he stood in front of a screen that updated as each precinct was tallied, three high school girls were ushered into the room, coming from helping out at a polling location.
All three are seniors at Centennial High School and part of the Youth in Government program.
“What do you think of this election?” Looney asked the girls.
“I think it’s a good thing,” Nayan Chavan, 17, said seconds before the final tally. “We need more schools!”
Looney attributed the vote to the school board’s insistence that the county find a way to fund new schools.
“I think this is a testament to the community at large and the value they place on public education,” he said.
The current sales tax in Williamson County is 2.25 percent, with state sales tax at 7 percent. Under the newly passed referendum, the county sales tax will rise by a half a percent, to 2.75 percent, for a total of 9.75 percent.
The funds gathered from the increase are expected to raise between $20 and $22 million each year. For three years, each city in the county will give their money to Williamson County Schools for the sole purpose of constructing new schools.
Though Fairview is already at a 9.75 total sales tax rate, city officials have agreed to surrender half a percent from other revenue sources.
While the county remains embroiled in a lawsuit with home builders over an educational impact fee passed last year, $8 million and counting languishes in the county coffers until the suit is settled.
Williamson County Administrator of Elections Chad Gray previously told county commissioners the cost for a standalone election such as this one would be $140,000.