Prior to the May 8 County Commission meeting, District 6 Commissioners Paul Webb and Jeff Ford and District 12 Commissioner Steve Smith filed a late resolution for a referendum to be held asking voters to support a sales tax increase from 9.25% to the maximum 9.75%. If approved by registered voters, the increase would generate approximately $11 million in revenue.
The measure did not make the agenda, and Commissioners Barb Sturgeon (D8) and Kathy Danner (D4) objected to hearing the late-filed resolution saying they preferred that it follow the normal committee process, first with Tax Study and then the Budget Committee before making its way to the full commission.
The Tax Study Committee will vote on the sales tax resolution at their meeting Tuesday, May 16, at 5:30. Gregg Lawrence (D4) is chair and Judy Herbert (D2), Sherri Clark (D9), Jeff Ford (D6) and Matt Williams (D10) also serve on the committee. UPDATE: The resolution passed 2-1 with Commissioners Gregg Lawrence (D4) and Jeff Ford (D6) voting yes. Judy Herbert (D2) voted against the measure saying that her constituents prefer a wheel tax. Sherri Clark (D9) and Matt Williams (D10) were absent. Now the resolution will go to the Budget Committee to be heard at their meeting Monday, June 5, at 4:30. Dana Ausbrooks (D12) is Chair, and Mayor Rogers Anderson, Lew Green (D5), Dwight Jones (D1), and David Landrum (D10) also serve on the Budget Committee. UPDATE: A formal resolution was not filed so the matter did not go before the Budget Committee for a vote in June. If filed, it could be heard at the Monday, July 3, Budget Committee meeting and then by the full Commission at the all-day 2017-18 budget review meeting on July 10. If not filed, the County Commission will not meet again until September.
Recall that increasing the county sales tax rate requires a two-thirds vote from the County Commission AND citizen approval from a county-wide voting referendum. If the County Commission votes in favor of a sales tax referendum, it would have to occur in 75-90 days. If approved by voters, the sales tax would go into effect on the first day of the month occurring 30 or more days after the Election Commission certifies the results.
We checked in with Williamson County Election Administrator Chad Gray about the logistics and recent history of tax referenda in the county.
- The estimated cost for holding a contested election is “around $150,000.” There would be early voting including Saturday hours, and all precincts would be open on Election Day. The date would be set by the Election Commission.
- A Williamson County sales tax increase was considered in 2011 but withdrawn. We are not aware of a sales tax referendum ever being held for Williamson County, but the City of Fairview had several. The first in May 2002 failed 336-159 (68%-32%). The second failed in November 2002, 1223-345 (78%-22%). A city sales tax increase finally passed in Fairview when it appeared on the Presidential Primary ballot in February 2004 with 335 for the tax increase and 189 against it.
- A county-wide wheel tax referendum was held in conjunction with the November 2004 Presidential Election. The measure failed 49,971 votes (72%) against the tax and 19,704 votes (28%) for it.
A tax increase referendum requires voters to show up for a special election at an odd time of year, which drives down turnout, and it requires people to show up to specifically vote to raise their taxes. It also provides a more attractive focal point for anti-tax folks to organize around. Some may propose this option because they want it to pass and others because they think it will fail. Be thoughtful about motivations on this potential funding mechanism. Most experienced Williamson County political observers think it is unlikely to pass because turnout for a special election tends to be more anti-tax than the electorate as a whole.
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