By Angie Mayes
Special to Mt. Juliet News
The idea of a sales tax increase referendum to help pay for county budget items was brought up again at the Wilson County Finance Committee meeting Thursday night.
Finance director Aaron Maynard presented some of the budget lines at the meeting when the idea of the referendum was again discussed.
“I guess the bottom line is, if we need more money, then we’re going to have to get more money,” said committee chair John Gentry. “So, it depends on how to get that money. When we need a new elementary school or middle school or jail or court system, it doesn’t grow on trees.”
Maynard agreed and said, “Don’t you guys wish, that with every step you’ve taken in life. Don’t you wish you can see it from a perspective of 10 years later. When the real estate market was in the dumps, and construction people were begging for work, that would have been a great time to be building like crazy. But that’s hindsight.”
Gentry said, “In my opinion, we started too late [on the sales tax education] to do the sell job. If we want to have a policy that says we want the sales tax, we have to do it early. To start it early, so we have a concerted effort.”
Maynard said the county commission chose to put the issue on the general election ballot, rather than have a special election. If county funds are spent, they can’t be spent in an advocacy way. They have to be spent in an education manner. I know people have complaints about that.
“We did the best we could under the circumstances that were presented, and I wish, before those 10,000 voters had voted [early], those educational pieces had been out there. Do I think it would have made a difference? Yea, I do.”
The measure failed to pass, with 27,424 people voting against the measure and 25,199 voting for it.
“[The failure] wasn’t from lack of effort on the part of the school system, on my part, on the mayor’s part,” Maynard said. “I worked as hard on that as I have for anything in my life.”
Gentry said, “The decision was made a little too late to get anything done. If we’re going to do it again, we’re going to have to get ahead of the game. We need to get ahead of the game and get it done. We need to make the decision early, whether it be from the budget committee, the finance committee, or someone has to bring the motion up.”
Gentry said he didn’t think a special election was the proper form for the referendum because, “we spend too much money [paying for election costs].”
Maynard said he understands the commissioners not wanting to hold a special election, but a special election could offer a “strategic” measure for the issue.
“We sat around for a while saying, ‘how will we fund a $110 million high school?” As we got down to the time where we didn’t have to have a tax increase, [Commissioner] Kenny Reich said, ‘We’re going to have future debt. How are we going to pay for that?’ That’s when he stood up in the commission meeting and said, ‘Hey, let’s put the sales tax on the next election,’” said Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto
Hutto said by the time the wording was approved for the ballot, the county had 54 days to educate the citizens.
“Williamson County did it in a general election, but they spent a year ahead of time, walking around and going to every city and asked every city there, ‘Hey, you give me your first three years’ of that 50 percent you get so we can help take care of these schools,” Hutto said. “That way, he sold it in each city, and those city people knew that ‘our money is going on the line for this, but we’re going to reap the benefits after year four, five, six and on down the line.’”
He said he talked to the Wilson County cities early on, but never received a commitment from them.
“I think in the time we had, 54 days, I think the people here were giving you a little message, saying ‘Hey, don’t raise my property tax, and maybe not the adequate facilities tax, but raise my sales tax,’” Hutto said. “You can choose to do that in 2020, if you want to do that. If you want to do that then this budget season is the time for somebody to say, ‘This is the way we want to go,’ and give us a year to educate the folks and say ‘Hey, I’ve got debt coming. Is this the way you want to pay for it?’ And we’ll go to work on that.”