Taxes are often viewed as a necessary evil within city government when it comes to those who have to pay them. So clarity is of utmost importance when tax issues are presented to voters.
Lebanon attorney Andy Wright’s 11th-hour decision to advise Mayor Philip Craighead to hold off on the first steps in a potential ½-cent sales tax increase was the right call Tuesday. In an email to Craighead, Wright said the proposed language on ballots could be confusing to voters after conferring with state election officials.
“They are of the position that incorporating any reference to a property tax into the ballot question would be confusing to voters and possibly subject the referendum to a successful legal challenge,” said Wright in the email.
The ordinance the council was due to consider Tuesday would allow the city to ask the Wilson County Election Commission to place the following question on the ballot in a special election:
“Shall Ordinance 14-4530, passed by the Lebanon City Council on the 8th day of January, 2014, and published in the Lebanon Democrat, a newspaper of general circulation in Wilson County, which increased the local option sales tax from 2.25% to 2.75%, as authorized by and to be levied and collected pursuant to the Retailers’ Sales Tax Act under Title 67, Chapter 6, Tennessee Code Annotated, and that thereby generated a new revenue stream that will allow the Lebanon City Council to consider a substantial reduction in the City of Lebanon property tax, become operative?”
Wright said state election officials believed the wording of it could violate the city’s charter.
“[B]ecause our charter vests sole authority in the setting of property tax rates in the city council, they are of the opinion that by incorporating a reference to the property tax in our ballot question, we would be transferring that authority to the voters, albeit indirectly, which would violate our charter provisions,” said Wright.
Due to the decision, the measure will now be reworded and presented at the council’s Jan. 21 meeting.
It was a head’s up decision by Wright to seek outside opinions and will ultimately benefit taxpayers, voters and the city, regardless of how the vote plays out.