Williamson County Mayor Rogers Anderson has kept himself busy recently with projects in nearly every nook and cranny of the county government, but he took an hour of his Friday to talk money at the Williamson, Inc. Legislative Update.
Naturally, Anderson began his talk by discussing the county’s greatest expense: schools. Over 2/3 of the county budget goes towards the Williamson County Schools operational and capital budget, and the demand for cash is ever-increasing as the population continues to grow.
A couple years ago, former WCS Superintendent Mike Looney estimated that the district would need $500 million over the next decade for capital projects to keep up with growth. Well, Anderson said they are well on their way with a gift of nearly $240,000 from the city of Brentwood last year for schools, about $60 million from the 2018 sales tax increase and additional funds from the controversial educational impact fee.
Anderson said the county delayed the implementation of the fee six months to hold additional public meetings and, at the end of it all, decided to set the rate at 50 cents on the dollar for new developments, which caused home builders to file lawsuits in protest.
“The home builders did not approve of this particular method,” Anderson said. “They would much rather see a broad-base tax spread across … increase your property tax, give the cost to everyone rather than on new construction. But we were convinced that the people that were impacting our public education were the new folks, not the existing folks that were here.”
The county is still working its way through the appeals process, and Anderson said they are holding $38 million in protested fees until everything is settled.
Anderson also spoke about another topic affecting children in the community: juvenile services. A new juvenile detention center has been on the docket for quite some time, and Anderson handed the microphone to Judge Sharon Guffee, who shared that “quite some time” can be roughly translated as “two decades.”
“Currently, the juvenile court is … attached to the jail, and we’re actually grandfathered in because you’re not supposed to have juvenile systems with an adult system because they’re different,” Guffee said. “We don’t punish children; we’re a rehabilitative body. So, 20 years ago, the county did a study, and they said, ‘You don’t have enough space.’ And that was 20 years ago.”
The Public Building Authority, a new entity as of last year, has met with contractors hired to take a close look at existing government buildings. At last month’s meeting, the authority heard a presentation about the jail, court and sheriff’s office and the contractors’ recommendations for improvements. They are continuing discussions about juvenile detention as well.
The authority’s next meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 27 is slated to include discussions of a new animal center, another long-time-coming project.
Anderson said that last year, the shelter received about 6,000 animals, and about 95% of them found homes. The county has chosen a parcel of land near Old Charlotte Pike for a new building, and Anderson said they are about a year away from an official move.
Finally, Anderson spoke about jobs, the day-to-day money-related topic, expressing his excitement for Mitsubishi Motors’ move to the county. He said he expects the growing population will find accommodations as more and more corporations relocate to Williamson County.
“We are so thankful for our corporate people who come to our community,” Anderson said, noting that he has been in county government for over 30 years. “It is about jobs. It’s about public education, having the best that you can have, and then it’s about jobs — good paying jobs. … Now, that comes with traffic, and that comes with residential issues and zonings and annexations and all those things, but it is about good jobs for our children and for our community.”
Williamson, Inc. holds its Legislative Update event each month with a new public official. The next event is scheduled for Friday, Sept. 27.