Wilson County commissioners voted Monday for the county to take out $107 million in bonds to pay for the construction of the new Green Hill High School in Mt. Juliet.
The vote was 18-6 to take out the bonds.
Commissioners Bobby Franklin, Jerry McFarland, Dan Walker, John Gentry, Terry Ashe and Frank Bush voted against the measure. Commissioners Becky Siever, Adam Bannach, Chad Barnard, Kenny Reich, Terry Scruggs, Sara Patton, Sonja Robinson, Jeff Joines, Mike Justice, Diane Weathers, Gary Keith, Terry Muncher, William Glover, Annette Stafford, Wendell Marlowe, Sue Vanatta, Joy Bishop and Jim Embrton voted for it. Commissioner Cindy Brown was absent.
“I’m wondering if we’ve had the opportunity to look at other funding methods,” said Bishop. “Could we put it to a referendum in November, because if we pass this now, could be pushed on the back burner. I would like to see other funding methods with that so we wouldn’t have to take so much out and do creative financing. I don’t want anyone to tell me I’m not for the school, but I want to look at other ways to fund it.”
Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said the funding boiled down to two options, to take $1 million out of the General Fund and $500,000 out of the special school tax fund or increase the adequate facilities tax from $3,000 to $4,000. That is money paid by builders when permits are taken out to build homes.
Earlier in the meeting, the commission voted 12-12 to raise the adequate facilities tax. The motion failed for lack of a majority.
“We said those are the two options that you had,” Hutto said. “We don’t want to raise the property tax or wheel tax. If you want to build the school, then this is how we will do it. If you don’t want to vote for it, vote ‘no.’ But the funding is not going to change next month or six months down the road.”
Finance director Aaron Maynard said the only other option was to increase the sales tax ½ cent to the state maximum of 9.75 percent.
“Increasing the sales tax is the only other way,” Maynard said. “That would be done on a special referendum in November.”
“I think the people would support that,” Bishop said. “I think the school system would support that. I’m for the schools, and I don’t want anyone to tell me I’m not for the schools, but I don’t necessarily want to do it this way.”
Hutto said the money that would be taken out of the General Fund and special schools tax fund will not hurt the county coffers. That is what Maynard and financial consultant Ashley McAnulty with Stephens Financial, the group who sells the bonds for the county, told the commission at a budget workshop in July.
Justice told the commissioners Maynard has said without “burdening the taxpayers, we can fund the school. If you delay this, you might want to add 3-5 percent. The bids will fail, and we’ll have to go out to bid again. If you think it’s going to be the same as the bid is now, I’ve got some property I want to sell you. It’s not going to happen. Right now, your finance director is telling you that you can build this school with the surplus you have now.“
Bush said the county already funded Lebanon High School, and Green Hill High School will put it further in debt.
Maynard said to help with that problem, the commission should impose a 5-cent property tax hike.
“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” he said. “If you want a $100 million high school, then perhaps you need to generate funds to pay for it – not by fancy financing that’s going to put off paying for the principal in the future. What’s going to happen six months down the road when we need another school? We’re not going to be able to do it, because we have excessive principal payments we have deferred.”
After that discussion ended in the vote to approve the school funding by bonds, the commission voted to put the sales tax increase on a referendum during the Nov. 6 election.
If passed, the money raised by the sales tax increase cannot be moved into the fund to pay for the school funding for one year. After that, the money, if allocated for the school fund, can be used to pay for the bond.