County voters are set to weigh in on a potential half-cent sales tax increase during Tennessee's presidential primary election on March 3, 2020.

The Wilson County Commission unanimously approved adding a tax referendum to the ballot during its meeting Monday. If enacted, the county sales tax rate would increase from 9.25% to the state maximum of 9.75%. That would be an additional 50 cents on a $100 purchase.

"This came before this body in September; it's just recommended we put this back on a referendum," Commissioner Kenny Reich said. "I'd like to amend this resolution to say that this half-cent sales tax, the money generated if we pass that sales tax increase would go to raises for classroom teachers."

Reich's amendment was approved, and Wilson County Director of Schools Donna Wright said the district would use the approximately $4 million in revenue the increase would generate for teacher raises.

The focus on teacher salaries comes as the number of college students majoring in education declines, while Tennessee's population -- and the need for teachers -- continues to increase.

"That's more than alarming. We need to look at what we're seeing as future projections, particularly in the next decade," Wright said of that trend. "We are seeing, typically those that have less than five years, looking to other professions right now because it has become extremely hard. When you look at federal regulations, unfunded mandates … that's really taking the joy of teaching out of the classroom."

According to Wright, there are approximately 1,350 classroom teachers now working in the school system who would benefit from a wage increase. The amount would be tiered in roughly $1,000 increments based on five levels of teacher effectiveness as measured by the Tennessee Department of Education.

"We're working with four different groups right now to educate or advocate for the sales tax," Wilson County Mayor Randall Hutto said. "Teacher raises, that's a national crisis right now, and Dr. Wright just echoed that it's going to happen for her and the school board as well, so I think it's important we get out what it's for."

The commission also approved a resolution requesting the state legislature increase monthly 911 charges from $1.16 per phone to $1.50 per phone, a return to pre-2014 rates. Commissioners John Gentry, William Glover and Annette Stafford voted against the measure.

"It doesn't seem like a whole lot of money, but the whole state and system has changed since 2014," Gentry said. "Since that time there are millions more cell phones on the books in the state, and every cell phone number pays that tax. You're raising taxes for all our constituents, and every student in every one of our schools has a cell phone."

If the state approves an increased 911 rate, the state will distribute the increased revenue among its counties to fund Emergency Communications Districts based on a percentage formula.

"Our call-in for October is 1,518," Wilson County Emergency Management Agency Director Joey Cooper said. "That's up by nine calls from last month."

According to previous EMA reports, that figure accounts for 18.3% more calls than the agency received in October 2018. Year-to-date calls have also increased by 12.3% when measured against 2018.

The commission also passed a series of budget amendments to reflect new grant funding and line item transfers, and a resolution supporting a grant application to restore Pickett Chapel through the Department of the Interior African American Civil Rights Grant Program.

The Wilson County Commission's next meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Dec. 16, at the Wilson County Courthouse located on 228 E. Main St. in Lebanon.

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