County gets sales tax plan
By Robert Norris | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The vote was unanimous — 19-0 — to put a sales tax increase resolution before Blount County Commission.
But it was clear Tuesday at the meeting of the Agenda Committee that there isn’t yet unanimity about the wisdom of the county matching the 0.5 percent local option sales tax approved by city of Alcoa voters.
Alcoans approved a referendum to increase the local sales tax from 2.25 percent to 2.75 percent in order to fund a new Alcoa High School.
The County Agenda Committee voted to recommend that the full commission consider on Aug. 16 whether to instruct the Election Commission to place a similar referendum on a county sales tax increase on the November ballot.
“The question is not are we for or against this issue,” Commissioner Steve Samples said. “All we’re deciding is whether or not we’re going to ask the Election Commission to give the citizens themselves the chance to make the decision.”
The county’s share of the sales tax increase would be split between Blount County Schools and the Highway Department.
The discussion started with Highway Commissioner Bill Dunlap and schools Director Rob Britt reiterating their positions stated Monday before the Budget Committee.
“If I’m going to go to the city of Alcoa and spend an extra sales tax, I want it to go to Blount County also,” Dunlap said.
Britt said the county school system faces a “fiscal crisis” — a $5 million shortfall in the 2013-14 budget.
“While our performance has been well above average, our per-pupil expenditure runs below average,” Britt said.
Alcoa schools spend $10,827 per pupil, which is $2,426 above what Blount County spends, according to Britt.
“All I’m asking is for you, and urging you and encouraging you, to support this referendum to take this already existing tax and spread this among all of our county for our roads and our schools, so our children in the Blount County school system can take advantage of these dollars as well,” he said.
“In my opinion, our children in the Blount County Schools are just as important as those in Maryville city and the Alcoa city school systems.”
Commissioner Jim Folts said the proposed added tax was being portrayed as minor.
“It is talked about as a small increase in the local option tax rate, but it’s a 22 percent increase in the local option tax rate, looked at another way,” he said.
Folts asked Finance Director Randy Vineyard to explain how much money was involved.
$7.6 million more
“It represents a 22.2 percent increase. If you equate that to our collections last year it would be about $7.6 million annualized countywide,” Vineyard said.
Folts focused on the $7.6 million figure and said the additional tax would be a burden on Blount County businesses, since Loudon County has a 2.0 percent local option sales tax.
“So we’re putting our business people at a significant disadvantage if this is approved. I think we all need to think about that,” Folts said.
Commission Chairman Jerome Moon noted that the tax has already passed in Alcoa.
“What will be the money we will be leaving on the table if we fail to adopt it countywide? What would be the cost to Blount County if it’s not passed countywide?” he asked.
Vineyard estimated that of the $7.6 million, if the referendum were to pass in Blount County, the county schools would be allocated about $2.35 million, and about $567,000 would accrue to the Highway Department on an annualized basis.
Samples steered the discussion to the vote at hand.
“I don’t want to debate this issue. Should we not debate whether or not we are going to give the citizens the opportunity to vote? That is the question,” he said.
Commissioner Holden Lail echoed Samples.
“At this point in time, it’s the elephant in the room. You can’t ignore it. You can see it. It’s going to be placed in Alcoa, and I would like as a commissioner to see that our citizens get the opportunity to voice their opinion on this for the county.”
Commissioner Peggy Lambert also agreed.
“That’s going to be my point. That this commission is not sitting up here voting raise taxes. It will be up to the citizens of this county to vote for it, and Mr. Folts has plenty of time throw out his numbers and campaign against it,” Lambert said.
Folts responded that he had not made up his mind on the tax, yet.
“But I think as citizens it is incumbent upon this commission to provide enough data to the citizens so that they understand the impact of this. This is a $7.6 million tax increase, and the citizens deserve that information.”
Folts then voted with all other commissioners present to put the resolution before the full commission Aug. 16 in order to determine whether to instruct the Election Commission to put the referendum on the November ballot.