PHOTO: County Mayor Rogers Anderson proposes reducing the originally proposed property tax increase to accommodate a financial gift from the state. / Photo by Alexander Willis
By ALEXANDER WILLIS
Property tax rates in Williamson County are now increased by roughly 3.25% following a 23 – 1 vote by the Williamson County Commission Monday morning in Franklin. The increase was notably less than the originally proposed 5.12% increase after what County Mayor Rogers Anderson called a “late hour” financial gift from the state.
The county property tax rate, which is separate from a city’s own set property tax rate, was previously at $2.15 per $100 of assessed property value – now increased to $2.22. The original proposal, which would have seen the rate increased to $2.26, was reduced to the tune of 4 cents Monday after the county government received a higher than expected financial gift from the state.
Originally anticipating roughly $2.5 million, the county unexpectedly received $4.2 million for educational funding in June. This was a gift both Anderson and Superintendent Jason Golden considered to be, in part, thanks to the late State Legislator Charles Sargent, who had been a strong proponent for increased funding for schools.
The purpose of the tax rate increase was to help fund Williamson County Schools’ administrative costs, which includes things like salaries for teachers and administrative staff. Higher teacher salaries have long been called for in Williamson County, with its current starting teacher salaries sitting at $37,500 – significantly lower than Davidson County’s starting teacher salary of $43,363.
However, thanks to the tax increase, all teachers in Williamson County can now expect, at a minimum, a 3% raise. Many staff, according to Golden, will receive “significantly more than that.” Teachers with 7 – 12 years of experience will get the bulk of the raises. In total, roughly $6.9 million is budgeted solely for teacher raises for the 2019 – 2020 fiscal year.
Despite the large gift from the state, commissioners still had the option to approve the originally proposed tax increase of 11 cents.
Commissioners discussed in detail routes they could take; pass the original proposal and use the extra revenue for future salary increases or emergencies, splitting the difference and raise the tax rate by just two cents, or dropping four cents from the increase and generate only what was budgeted for in school administration costs.
“I like the idea of having a little bit of a cushion, [but] I think the risk that we run is operational budgets can bloat – they’ll grow to the budget,” said County Commissioner Matt Williams. “Being fiscally responsible, we can lower the tax rate, but then the other side to that is we have to have the appetite to look at increasing it again next year or the year after. If we did go the way of approving as proposed, what assurances do we have that we’re only utilizing what we absolutely need, and that any overages not needed in the operational budget can carry forward?”
In response to Williams question, Golden said the county was only able to spend in school administration costs exactly what the Board of Education had budgeted for, and not a penny more, save for a vote from both the Board of Education and the County Commission.
After further discussion, Anderson made a case to the commission for only approving what was needed, lest they set a new president on tax hikes.
“I think it’s a bad precedent to ask taxpayers to pay for things that might be coming up down the pike,” Anderson said. “You’ve always met the obligations in the years that I’ve been here; you’re a triple A rated county, it never hurts to have more money in the bank. But when you leave here, you’ve got to justify that to your citizenry that do not watch television, listen to the radio, all they know is you’ve passed a tax increase. I have been where you’re sitting – it’s a hard decision to make. But with that, I’ll recommend that we bring it down to the four pennies, which will not hurt their budget one bit.”
After continued discussions, the commission first voted on an amendment that would see the tax increase dropped by only two cents. That amendment failed to see a majority with a deadlocked vote of 12 – 12. Afterwards, the commission voted on Anderson’s request that the tax increase be dropped by the full four cents, which ultimately passed with a vote of 23 – 1.