By Angie Mayes
Special to the Democrat
To raise funds for educational projects, Wilson County placed a sales tax increase in the form of a referendum on the Nov. 6 ballot.
It will be on the ballot for voters to decide instead of the Wilson County Commission’s consideration of a property tax increase, according to county finance director Aaron Maynard.
If voters approve it, the sales tax would increase from 9.25 percent to the state maximum of 9.75 percent. The .50 percent equals a half-cent increase, Maynard said.
“On $100, the increase would be 50 cents,” Maynard said. “By law, the sales tax increase has to go on a referendum. Half of the amount raised in sales tax has to go to education. It depends on where the sale took place. The state gets 7.50 percent of the money. The cities and the counties get 2.25 percent, depending on where the sale takes place.”
For example, if the sale is in Mt. Juliet, the city gets the money. If the sale is in the county, Wilson County gets the sales tax money.
In most recent statistics available, Lebanon received $11 million in sales tax revenues per month, while Mt. Juliet had $10.3 million in sales tax revenues, Maynard said.
In addition to Wilson County Schools, Lebanon Special School District gets money from the sales tax referendum, as well, he said.
“It is based on the average daily attendance,” Maynard said. “This year, they received $886,000 that didn’t come to the county.”
The county received $5.2 million from the sales tax coffers during the previous fiscal year.
Maynard said the “driving force behind the sales tax referendum is infrastructure. We can manage operating co
sts through growth. That could be hiring teachers, deputies and paramedics. It’s hard to manage through population.”
In 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated there were 113,993 people in Wilson County. In 2017, the estimate was 136,442. That’s the approximate number of people the census bureau had originally estimated would be in the county in 2019.
“Over the past seven years, we added 22,449 people,” Maynard said. “We’re expected to add 21,389 in the next six years. In 2023, we are expected to have 157,930 people. The census bureau does come in on the low side, so we could have more.”
Maynard said the only option other than a sales tax increase, is to raise the property tax, which will hurt homeowners and businesses.
“The sales tax option affects everyone who spends money in Wilson County,” Maynard said. “It will be spent by residents who shop here, tourists or even people who just drive through and stop.”
Maynard said 49 of the 95 counties in Tennessee already have their sales tax rate at 9.75 percent and 11 counties are at 9.5 percent.
“That means that more than 63 percent of the counties in Tennessee have a rate of 9.5 percent or higher,” he said. “Williamson County just raised theirs to 9.75 percent. Rutherford County is at 9.75 percent. Montgomery County is at 9.5 percent, and Sumner County is at 9.25 percent.”
Maynard said the county supports school renovations and construction. In the past few years, Wilson County Schools expanded Carroll-Oakland School, Gladeville Elementary School, Rutland Elementary School, Southside School, Tuckers Crossroads School, Watertown Elementary School, West Elementary School and West Wilson Middle School. Lebanon High School and Watertown High School were built within the past seven years. Gladeville Middle School is scheduled to open next fall. The new Green Hill High School is expected to be ready to open in two years.
Maynard said a property tax hike does not go before the citizens. The state allows a county to raise its rate by commission vote.
He admitted there were three referendums to increase the sales tax since 1994, and all three failed. He hopes it will be different this year.
“We’ve been asked by property owners why we increase the property tax,” Maynard said. “We don’t want to penalize the property owners, but that’s what we will have to do if this doesn’t pass. This is our bottom line. Hopefully people will turn out to vote for this. This is an opportunity for people to choose what kind of tax they want.”