Voters both in Lebanon and across Wilson County shot down a proposed half-cent sales tax increase by more than a 3-to-1 margin in the August general election, but Lebanon Mayor Philip Craighead believes he can get the same tax hike passed for the city alone to reap the benefits.
Unofficial results from the referendum on the Aug. 7 ballot showed 15,942 voters said no to the additional half-cent tax increase on items bought in Wilson County while 4,879 supported it. Additionally, voters in Lebanon – those voting at precincts that will also be used for the upcoming Sept. 23 city sales tax referendum – also disapproved of the rate hike by a 3-to-1 margin with 2,031 for and 6,733 against.
In 2012, the same measure failed in Lebanon, attached to a November presidential election ballot. That result was somewhat closer with 5,421 voting against and 3,125 for the hike.
“There are differences, and I hope people will understand those differences,” Craighead said. “In 2012, it was at the end of a very long ballot. I think it got lost in the campaigns and other things going on then.
“In August, it was at the end of an even longer ballot, and I don’t think it was properly explained or promoted.”
The Lebanon City Council passed a resolution in mid-August that sets the dates for a special election with the sales tax referendum as the sole item on the ballot.
The resolution called for the city referendum to be Sept. 23 at a cost of about $25,000. Early voting will be Sept. 3-18.
“Here, because we initiated it, we have to have a vote on it,” Craighead said.
Craighead said the estimated funds generated annually for the city could mean about a 20-cent reduction in Lebanon’s 60.75-cent property tax rate. Property taxes were raised last year in Lebanon for the first time in more than two decades.
“I think it’s going to be an uphill battle, and I will be out there talking about this,” Craighead has said. “I hope our other council members will join me in trying to get this pushed through.”
But Craighead said he was going to give it everything he had to get it passed.
“I’ll be outdoors knocking on doors this weekend,” Craighead said. “I have subdivision captains who I hope will help me.”
Craighead said the property tax reduction would be a $1.6 million annual reduction in tax revenues coming into the city and would leave money for a new fire hall and more aggressive paving throughout the city.
Craighead also called sales tax the fairest option since about 70,000 cars a day pass by Lebanon on Interstate 40, and those visitors stopping in the city to buy gas and other items would play a factor in who pays sales tax, not solely residents.
He also said an estimated 60 percent of those who pay into total sales tax collections for Lebanon live outside the city limits.
“A half-cent makes sense for more services and a better city,” Craighead said.
If voters pass the city sales tax increase, it couldn’t be raised again without a change in state law. Either would push the total sales tax rate to 9.75 percent, which is the most currently allowed in Tennessee. If Lebanon’s referendum were to pass, the county could opt in with another referendum to make the sales tax increase countywide, according to state law.