Williamson County approves 7-cent property tax increase

Williamson County approved an increased property tax rate to fund local public schools for next year, including money for teacher raises, additional employees and new school construction for Williamson County Schools.

Commissioners voted 23-1 during the July 8 Williamson County Commission meeting to raise the tax rate by seven cents to a rate of $2.22 per $100 assessed property valuation.

The county budget commission had initially recommended an 11-cent increase, but late-arriving funds from the state meant that commissioners could raise taxes by as little as seven cents while still balancing the district's budget.

"I think we've been given a gift here, a Christmas gift in July," said Commissioner Brian Beathard, who represents part of Franklin. "We discussed, rightfully so for about an hour, whether or not to give that gift to ourselves or for the citizens. I believe we made the right decision."

Other commissioners argued that seven-cent increase was too thin, and that it could lead to the county having to raise the rate again next year. The district often has to dip into its fund balance to execute its budget, according to Leslie Holman, the WCS assistant superintendent for budget and finance.

"I would be amenable to going two cents, but [reducing the suggested rate by] four cents, I believe, is cutting it too thin," said Commissioner Jennifer Mason, who represents a southern part of the county including Spring Hill. "As we know, we're constantly going to be competing with other districts for teacher raises. There's constantly going to be increases in operating costs, and if we can build our fund balance with this, then we're not, hopefully, coming back to the taxpayers next year or the year after and asking for more and more money."

An amendment to raise the tax by 9 cents—splitting the difference between the seven-cent minimum raise and the originally-proposed 11-cent raise—failed on a tied 12-12 vote.

While WCS prepares its own budget, the county funds a majority of it.

The district’s general fund—set at about $386.2 million—marks an 8% increase over last year’s budget. Teachers and employees will receive raises of between 3% and 12% to help the district stay competitive with nearby districts, according to budget documents.

Student enrollment has also increased by 2.6% to a projected enrollment of 41,571 students in the first month of the 2019-20 school year, according to superintendent Jason Golden. The budget also includes the hiring of about 152 new employees, 64 of which will be teachers. Some staffers will go to a new campus, Creekside Elementary School, which is opening this year.