Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said that the county's increased sales tax rate is estimated to bring in $975,000 per year.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said that the county's increased sales tax rate is estimated to bring in $975,000 per year.

Macon County's sales tax is set to rise 0.5 percent after voters approved a referendum on the subject, and the rate changes could take place as soon as Jan. 1.

The move is intended to address growth within theschool district by funding a new elementary school in Lafayette, and it will remain in effect an estimated 25 years to generate enough revenue.

"Once the election is certified and the count is certified, we then send a certification notification to the Tennessee Department of Revenue," Macon County Mayor Steve Jones said (the Macon County Election Commission has certified the results as of Nov. 15). "There are some other documents we have to send with it, show them that it's been approved by the legislative body of Macon County. Then, they will notify the businesses. My understanding, the state has 60 days from the time they receive their information to get that sent out to the businesses."

Every business operating within Macon County that collects sales tax will be required to implement the new rates, which Jones said is estimated to bring in $975,000 per year.

"You're going to have some people that might want to go to another area or county (to shop)," Jones said. "(But) you're only paying 50 cents difference (if you spend $100). It takes several 50 cents just to pay to go to another county. I don't see our businesses losing sales from people going out of the county for 50 cents on $100."

Although the tax is projected to cover most of the school's cost, residents may see increases in property and/or wheel taxes to make up the remainder. Possibilities raised at a town hall meeting in October included a $20 increase to wheel tax, a 12-cent increase to property tax or combination of the two based on the sales tax raising $900,000.

"We have to know how much (the school) is going to cost before we know how to do any extra funding," Jones said. "It's estimated somewhere right now in the $24-25 million range. That will tell us what kind of time frame we'll set (payments for) the school on, whether that's going to be 24 or 25 years."

Jones said the county's other means of funding include the property tax, the wheel tax or the school district having money available through Basic Education Program (BEP) funding.

Macon County Director of Schools Tony Boles said that if the county commission decides to use BEP funds for the additional cost, the school district would be unable to afford further additions to their buildings.

"We're looking at building classrooms on to Macon County High School, Macon County Junior High and Red Boiling Springs School," Boles said. "It's building for the growth. We have three teachers at MCHS that don't have their own classrooms, and the growth (we're seeing) in elementary schools is set to impact MCJHS."

Boles noted that graduating fifth-grade classes from Westside Elementary School impacts the MCJHS population as well. Enrollment statistics place the school district's growth rate at 14 percent over the past five years.

"(If BEP funding is committed to the new school), I foresee us having to move to more portable classrooms," Boles said. "That creates a security risk from having these students outside the school buildings."

At the Macon County Commission's Aug. 20 meeting, Jones said that the property tax is likely to be the additional revenue source and could also help fund an upcoming project for the Macon County Jail. However, the sales tax revenue is earmarked solely for the new school.

"The jail is being paid off this year," Jones said. "In the past, (state prisoners) have paid for the debt on the jail, and we hope to continue in that way. We're going to be proactive and try to go ahead and do what is necessary ... rather than having a federal court come in and tell us what we've got to do, but we're hoping a majority of that will be paid for by state inmates."

Macon County residents approved the sales tax referendum by a margin of 14.26 percent during the midterm election, by a 3,393-2,546 vote.

Opponents of the sales tax have advocated for alternative funding methods, such as implementing liquor by the drink in order to attract new restaurants.

Supporters of the sales tax have said it would keep property taxes from becoming the new school's primary funding source and allow county visitors to share the cost with residents.

"I think it's a good thing," Lafayette resident Lauren White said. "It's not a very high sales tax at all, and it's for a good cause, though I do wish the county would allocate to Red Boiling Springs. They're overcrowded in the schools. I have a few friends that are teachers having to work with 25 to 30 kids at once. That hurts education and prevents teachers from addressing things like bullying."