12/03/17 — County to look at raising sales tax to fund schools

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County to look at raising sales tax to fund schools

By Steve Herring
Published in News on December 3, 2017 3:05 AM

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"This classroom-size thing is serious. You've got like a year to get this thing done. I don't know how they (state legislators) expect anyone to do that in the first place." -- Chairman Bill Pate discussing the state mandate's affect on the county.

Wayne County residents could be asked to approve an additional quarter-cent sales tax to help pay for the new teachers and classrooms the county will need in order to meet a state mandate to reduce the number of pupils per certified teacher in all kindergarten through third grade classes.

Commissioners are expected to begin those deliberations when they meet Tuesday.

As part of that discussion, Wayne County Manager George Wood will ask for a vote on several related issues, including the addition of eight classrooms at the new Meadow Lane Elementary School now under construction.

The county would use $1.4 million of its budget's general fund balance to pay for the project.

"The reason for going ahead is two-fold," Wood said. "One is we would save some money by going ahead and doing it while they are building the school. The second reason is that the schools in the southern end of the county are pretty well maxxed out, the elementaries are. Those areas continue to grow.

"So you would be able to change the attendance lines between Meadow Lane and, say, Spring Creek, and then bring some of those children up to Meadow Lane and alleviate some of the crowding down there."

The meeting will get underway with an 8 a.m. agenda briefing followed by the formal session at 9 a.m. in the commissioners' meeting room on the fourth floor of the Wayne County Courthouse Annex.

Commissioners have not indicated if they would call for a referendum for a new sales tax, but they have said they do not want to raise property taxes.

The quarter-cent sales tax would generate approximately $2,591,879 annually.

A 3.21 cent property tax increase would be needed to raise the same amount of money, Wood said.

Commissioner Joe Daughtery asked Wood to study what would be needed to implement a quarter-cent sales tax

It would be at least next fall before a referendum would be held should commissioners decide to proceed, Wood said.

If the majority of those voting in a referendum vote for the tax, commissioners may, by resolution and after a 10-days public notice, levy the tax.

Every county in the state has been placed in a bind by the mandate, commission Chairman Bill Pate said.

"This classroom-size thing is serious," Pate said. "You've got like a year to get this thing done. I don't know how they (state legislators) expect anyone to do that in the first place. You have got to find the land. You've go to build a school.

"You are talking a couple of years or better before you can even meet the mandate, and you have go to pay for it somehow. The reason we were talking about looking at the sales tax is that does not necessarily just hit people who own property. Everybody would help pay for that."

That includes anyone who stops here on the way through the county and purchases items, he said.

Pate said he feels strongly about staying away from as much property tax as possible.

Of particular concern is the county's agribusinesses that have experienced several bad crop years, Pate said.

"This whole thing with this classroom size really bothers me," he said. "I am not blaming our (legislative) group. This came from the General Assembly.

"But anyhow, we are going to have to work with our local delegation, try to figure out a different way to do this classrooms size, whether they come back with a school bond statewide and/or whether they realize this is not a doable thing."

It will be bad enough on Wayne County, but will be even worse on smaller counties that have smaller tax bases, Pate said.

"They will never be able to meet this thing," he said. "They will just go bankrupt."

As for the sales tax, Pate said the county needs to know its options before moving forward.