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Wilson County should consider metro government
Dec 10, 2004 12:00 am
The debate over whether county government spends a disproportionate amount of its tax dollars in Mt. Juliet and West Wilson County needs to take the next logical step.
Elected leaders across Wilson County in all of its governments need to begin in earnest to explore the potential of metropolitan government.
For years, Lebanon city councilors and Mayor Don Fox have correctly complained that Wilson County government provides services to Mt. Juliet residents that Lebanon residents do not receive from county government.
Mt. Juliet, which quadrupled in size during the 1990s, is still receiving fire service for their county property tax dollars – the only fire service Mt. Juliet residents have – where Lebanon funds its own fire department.
In addition, because of wildfire residential growth, Mt. Juliet has received the bulk of county school building funds in the last decade: Stoner Creek Elementary, Rutland Elementary, Mt. Juliet Elementary and a soon to be new Mt. Juliet High School.
Certainly, all of these schools were badly needed. Yet, coupled with the fire department issue, the continual focus on funding West Wilson infrastructure leaves a bad taste in many East Wilson County taxpayers' mouths.
A new study released by Lebanon city government this week drives home this reality, revealing Lebanon's city limits produce three times the amount of county property tax that Mt. Juliet does on an annual basis.
Mt. Juliet city leaders for the last decade have smugly said they are simply getting a good deal, noting their residents pay county property taxes and are entitled to the service.
Mt. Juliet city leaders also cry "duplication of services," saying a city fire department is not needed when the county has a substation parked in a city-owned building in the middle of town.
The truth is county government agreed to provide fire service to Mt. Juliet when it was a town of barely 4,000 residents in the late 1980s.
Now, with a population over 14,000 and a status as the state's fastest growing city, Mt. Juliet relying solely on county fire service is a phenomenon of institutional inertia in both governments rather than shrewd deal making by the Mt. Juliet City Commission past or present.
Another truth is Mt. Juliet city politicians simply fear the political fallout funding a fire department might bring since such a move might require a city property tax.
However, for all of the avoiding duplication of services rhetoric from Mt. Juliet city leaders past and present, never have they trumpeted a holistic approach to serving this ideal: exploring metropolitan government.
Quite simply, it is time to begin the process of studying metropolitan government with participation from all four of the county's governments and both its school systems.
Other options should be explored, including bringing back the fire tax district concept to offset the cost to county coffers Mt. Juliet's fiscal dependency causes.
Another option is to zone property tax increases to county school zones, charging higher increases to fewer residents in areas where growth is driving new school building.
The present system that favors one end of the county over another based on outdated circumstances is simply unfair. It is a situation our newspaper calls on elected leaders in Wilson County government to remedy through creativity and new ideas.
As part of the process, all leaders need to join together and explore metropolitan government, particularly Mt. Juliet.