Wilson County may raise property taxes amid allegations of careless spending

Wilson County may raise property taxes amid allegations of careless spending

Wilson County commissioners may vote to raise property taxes an additional 44 cents for new schools, among other things.

But two county commissioners say local schools already are careless managers of taxpayer money.

“I think the school system has lost a great deal of credibility with the commission because of its request for funds, which we grant,” County Commissioner Frank Bush said.

“In short order they come back and ask for more money for the same item because they blew it on the first go-round. There were bond issues for improving schools to the tune of $55 million. We approved them. They then said, ‘That wasn’t enough. We need $78 million because costs have increased.’”

Frank Bush (photo courtesy of Wilson County's official website)

Frank Bush (photo courtesy of Wilson County’s official website)

Bush told Tennessee Watchdog he doesn’t believe school officials.

“With all due respect, I find their arguments disingenuous,” Bush said.

Wilson County School System officials did not return repeated requests for comment Monday and Tuesday.

Of all things taxpayers fund, Commissioner Diane Weathers said, the cost overruns, most often, happen in the school system.

“They come back to the well pretty often, you know. I don’t get a new pair of shoes if my husband tells me there’s no money in the checkbook, right?” Weathers said.

School system officials, Weathers added, started having problems managing money around 2010, when they changed their public bidding process for school contracts.

“We went from being guaranteed maximum where you go out and bid it, where you get a contractor that will oversee everything, and they said it won’t cost any more than this amount. They guaranteed the bottom dollar on it,” Weathers said.

“We went away from that and took a hard bid. They are now able to put change orders in different things. I think we ought to look at the way we were building buildings before.”

Other commissioners say the school system needs more money, regardless.

RELATED — Wilson County man says officials refuse to see evidence pointing to inflated home appraisal

“Teachers are so underpaid, and they are leaving us left and right. We started the new year with 190 teachers, and now we are bringing in 190 new ones,” Commissioner Sara Patton said.

Diane Weathers (photo courtesy of Wilson County's official website)

Diane Weathers (photo courtesy of Wilson County’s official website)

Those teachers, she said, are going to nearby Rutherford, Sumner and Robertson counties, where they make more money.

Commissioner Jeff Joines said the average teacher salary in Wilson County is about $40,000 a year. Tennessee Department of Education spokeswoman Sara Gast said the average teacher salary in Tennessee is $50,463.

Joines said the county needs money for a new middle school and some additions to existing elementary schools.

Commissioner Terry Muncher said he expects the county’s population to double in the next 15 years, and the county will eventually need more schools.

According to the Tennessean, the property tax increase, should it pass, would add about $220 a year to a property tax bill for a home valued at $200,000.

Of that 44 additional cents, eight cents would go toward teacher pay raises, and 15 cents would pay for school construction. The county’s tax rate is just more than $2.16 for every $100 of assessed value, the paper said.

Commissioners will likely vote on the matter at a meeting scheduled for 7 Monday night. A public hearing, which will give taxpayers an opportunity to speak for or against the increase, is scheduled for 6.

The address is 228 East Main St. in Lebanon.

Thirteen or more of the county’s 25 commissioners must vote in favor of the increase for it to pass, Patton said.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org 

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