Economic Development

Source: Williamson Herald
Author: Kerri Bartlett, Managing Editor

 

With the slogan “Our Kids Are Worth It” Williamson Inc. released, at its 5th Annual Celebration Tuesday, two fact sheets crunching pertinent numbers regarding the recently-passed countywide referendum calling for a sales tax increase.

The Williamson County Board of Commissioners voted Monday to approve a countywide referendum to raise the county sales tax by .5 percent from a rate of 2.25 to 2.75 percent to fund school capital debt.

With the help of Williamson County’s six municipalities, revenue gained from the increase would generate $23 million for schools each year for three years.

Williamson Inc. President and CEO Matt Largen encouraged the business community in attendance to vote in favor of the sales tax increase to benefit county schools, the “economic driver” of the county.

At 7 p.m. during the dinner, Largen asked guests to look at their phones for an email with the fact sheets on the sales tax increase, “a plan to keep our schools great and our property taxes strong.”

“The funding plan for Williamson County Schools plays an integral role in maintaining the economic vitality of our community,” Largen writes in the email.

“I urge you to head to the polls in early 2018 and vote for this plan to fund our first class school system.”

Largen also asked guests to share the information with their peers, family and friends to promote the upcoming February referendum, especially on social media platforms with the hashtag #SchoolFunding.

The referendum will most likely take place the first week in February. Once the resolution is signed by elected officials and sent to the Williamson County Election Office, administrator Chad Gray has 90 days to call a special election for the countywide referendum.

The organization also unveiled its website www.WilliamsonChamber.com/SchoolFunding for the community to access more information on the subject.

The fact sheets state that 28 percent of the possible sales tax increase will be paid by people outside of Williamson County.

The sales tax increase would help to fund bonds issued to the county for the construction of new school buildings and additions and renovations to existing school buildings. According to the recent Williamson County Schools 5 Year Capital Plan, the need for 12 new school buildings during that time span is expected to accommodate WCS’s growing population of almost 2,000 students a year. An increase of 20,000 students, or 57,000 students, is projected in the next 10 years. The 5-Year Capital Plan cites a need for $428 million for new school buildings, repairs and renovations within that time period.

Meanwhile, the county currently holds a net debt service of over $530 million. The county school “funding crisis,” which some have called it, reached a crescendo last spring when the county commission threatened not to fund the much-needed expansions of Brentwood and Page high schools if something was not done to provide an additional revenue stream to fund schools without having to implement a property tax increase.

County Mayor Rogers Anderson has been vocally opposed to a property tax increase to solve the problem and says to most citizens, it is “not palatable.” Anderson hit the ground running over the summer visiting all six municipalities in Williamson County to get their support and commitment to dedicating their .5 percent revenue to school debt. All cities agreed through a Memorandum of Understanding, with the exception of the city of Fairview, which already has a maximum sales tax rate of 2.75 percent. However, Fairview joins the other cities in its support of schools by dedicating a portion of its adequate facilities tax, equalling what it would have gained in revenue through the sales tax increase.

After three years, revenue from the increased sales tax collection would go back to city budgets instead of schools for cities to use as they see fit.

 

In a video describing the positive impact that schools in Williiamson County have on the economy, WCS Director of Schools Mike Looney cited that the recent graduating class earned $170 million in scholarship dollars and boast an ACT average composite score of 25.2.

Largen highlighted key successes of the organization before welcoming keynote speaker Mark Johnson, regional president of Mars Petcare, who spoke on the importance of having purpose in the workplace.

The chamber has built partnerships and various learning programs with Williamson County Schools in technology including a mechatronics program, helped to promote a hospitality degree program at Columbia State Community College, led Mobility Week last year to promote solutions to improving traffic congestion and helped the business community get involved in providing opportunities for businesses to give to schools in need. The organization, which became a unified chamber 5 years ago, has also organized information-gathering trips to other cities and communities to find solutions on traffic, housing, strategic growth and planning.

“We will continue to be on the forefront of finding solutions to community problems whether education funding or transportation solutions,” Largen said.

“It’s important for us to continue to be relevant. This is an organization that takes pride in getting in the middle of issues and solving challenging issues that allow Williamson County to grow and enjoy prosperity.”