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Squires speak out on tax hike
Mar 12, 2004 12:00 am
Based on a draft resolution proposing to increase Wilson County's local option sales tax, several county commissioners responded Thursday with opinions ranging from indecision to full support.
While several agreed the idea is worth investigating, many declined to show support either way.
"It's something we need to look at and think about doing, but I'm keeping an open mind," District 16 Commissioner Gilbert Graves said Thursday night.
Other commissioners also confessed they haven't made up their minds about the proposed sales tax hike, but many believe it is a lesser of two evils.
"My first thought is if more revenue is necessary, a sales tax is better than property tax because everybody pays," District 24 Commissioner Paul Abercrombie said.
Based on the proposal, Wilson County's local option sales tax would increase from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent, the maximum allowed by state law. Coupled with the state's 7 percent sales tax, Wilson County would have a total 9.75 percent sales tax.
"I talked to (Wilson County Finance Director) Ron Gilbert and he estimated it would bring in $1.5 million," District 15 Commissioner Billy Swindell said.
Swindell said the money generated from the sales tax increase would be earmarked for the future growth needs of Wilson County education system.
"That's what we need to meet school growth for the next six years," he said. "So, I totally support the sales tax increase … If we don't do this sales tax increase, the only stream of revenue to support the growth in the schools system is a property tax increase. I'm against a property tax increase."
Commissioners Eugene Murray and Wayne Drennan, however, believe a better way exists to fund growth. Both men said county officials need to tighten their own fiscal spending.
"I think what we need to do is look to cut expenses before we raise taxes," District 21 Commissioner Eugene Murray said. "You don't want to get into situation where when you come up short you start raising your constituents taxes … At some point we need to see where our money is going and see if we can cut corners. We need to make sure that there's not any waste."
District 6 Commissioner Wayne Drennan agreed about cutting or trimming budgets.
"Every department needs to tighten their belts," he said. "You need to work your budgets like you do your own budget at home. When you spend someone else's money, you need to spend it conservatively."
Drennan did confess he still hasn't made up his mind while Murray admitted a sales tax is better than a property tax.
"I do agree a sales tax is the most fair tax, but we need to be careful about using the public's credit card without making sure it's necessary thing, " Murray said.
Wilson County Mayor Robert Dedman believes the county school system will need more money to meet the needs of an increasing student population. The county's growth projections indicate population will increase from 50,000 to 80,000 people in the next 20 years, the draft resolution states.
"That way with the school running the way they are and the population growing, I'd rather have that than a property tax increase," Dedman said. "I know it's a little, but you get something out of the tourists that come here and not the people that live here … It would keep the burden off property owners."
Dedman added all the pros and cons need to be discussed.
Some pros and cons could determine the votes of a few commissioners including Bob Neal, Randy Hall, Adam Bannach and Swindell.
Bannach along with District 1 Commissioner Wendell Marlowe indicated funding could be used for educational system employees' salaries. Neal said he would be more inclined to approve the measure if the money went to building schools rather than salaries.
Although Hall believes education is a priority, he said not all funds should be distributed to the school system.
"Education is important but might need to look at other things that need funding," Hall said. "We need to look at all avenues and see what we can do with it."
The current draft resolution, however, earmarks money for the educational needs of Wilson County School System.
"It shall be earmarked for the education needs of Wilson County," Swindell said. "The County Commission would have authority to use this money for the best interest of the Wilson County Schools. I would not support it to say it would go directly to salaries."
The proposed resolution was devised by an ad hoc committee originally formed last year to examine teachers' salaries. The committee continued to meet to find an "equitable way" to fund educational needs, said Swindell, who was part of the committee. Marlowe was the committee chair and submitted the draft resolution for commissioners' consideration last week.