Legal claim filed on sales tax referendum
By Joel Davis | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Samuel Duck, candidate for the Maryville Board of Education, filed a civil warrant in General Sessions Court Tuesday to try to force the county sales tax referendum added to the ballot for Alcoa voters on Nov. 6.
The issue has already been voted on in Alcoa where voters, on Aug. 2, 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 city estimates the increase will bring in an additional $3.2 million to $3.4 million in sales tax revenue annually.
Later that month, the Blount County Commission voted to ask county voters whether to hike the local option sales tax to match the Alcoa increase. If they do so, the county would get half of the increased sales tax revenues generated in Alcoa. Otherwise the city keeps all of it.
As the matter stands, though, city of Alcoa residents will not vote. “They are trying to exclude as many voters as possible,” Duck said.Not so, said Administrator of Elections Libby Breeding, who added that it was against the law for the question to be put on the ballot for Alcoa voters again. “Once they voted on it, they don’t get to vote on it again. That’s what the law says. I even confirmed that with the state attorney. He can file a lawsuit against me if he wants to, but I’m not going to go against the law. I don’t make those decisions. That’s why we have laws.”
The warrant names Breeding as “Commissioner of Elections,” but, according to the Tennessee Administrative Office of the Courts, it appears that Chancery Court — not General Sessions Court — would have jurisdiction concerning the election commission. County Commission Chairman Jerome Moon provided a Sept. 21, 1988, opinion from the state Attorney General’s office to The Daily Times that says it is legal to prohibit the participation of city residents in a referendum conducted in the remainder of the county to levy a county tax at the same rate if city residents have already voted to impose it.
According to the opinion: “The design of the law is that if city residents are willing to bear the burden of a local option tax, those revenues should go for county purposes if county residents are similarly willing to bear the tax. City residents should not be able to redirect the tax from county to city purposes by tactical voting. The design of the law accomplishes exactly this. It does not infringe the city dwellers’ right to vote, since they have that initial right. It merely prevents them from manipulating the local option tax, in order to protect it as primarily a source of county revenue.”
Duck’s argument is that applicable state law would only exclude city voters if the sales tax is operative when the County Commission votes to approve the referendum. “The resolution was adopted Aug. 17, but the sales tax was not operative at the time and will not become operative until Oct. 1,” Duck wrote in an attachment to the warrant application.
“I am asking for an order to be made to the commissioner of elections that the ballot initiative to increase the local option sales tax be on the ballot for voters in the city of Alcoa.”