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Ragsdale holds ‘roundtable’

Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale held a “Mayor’s Roundtable” with teachers, parents and principal Reggie Mosley of Bluegrass Elementary Wednesday, Dec. 10, at BES, at which he and Fifth District commissioner Mike Hammond Mike brought up the idea of instituting a half-cent sales tax increase and earmarking the funds specifically for schools.

Ragsdale and Hammond were joined at the meeting by Craig Leuthold, 5th District County commissioner, and 4th District commissioners Finbarr Saunders and Ed Shouse.

The goal of the meeting was to identify and discuss the various needs of BES and Knox County Schools as a whole.

Mosley, along with teachers and parents, identified traffic concerns, technological needs, advanced placements concerns and various capitol improvements as issues.

Ragsdale said, “We have got a half-cent left on the sales tax and we can either use it locally or the state will come in and say ‘OK, we are going to take that half-cent. You had a chance and you didn’t use it so we are going to use it.’”

The issue would require a referendum and would increase local sales tax from 9.25 percent to 9.75 percent .

Hammond said, “Let me ask you this — Everything we have talked about costs money — do you think your parents would be willing to pay more if they knew that you were going to get an awning and expand your cafeteria? If you were going to get more Smartboards?”

Teachers and parents agreed that a raise for teachers would need to be included in order to get more parents on board with the idea in order to help keep quality teachers in the County.

“You would have an additional $30 million come into the system with this half-cent,” Hammond said.

“It would actually go to the schools, every year. Nobody wants taxes. Nobody wants to pay them. I don’t want to pay them. But if we are going to get beyond what you have talked about here, we are going to have to address the funding issue,” he added.

Ragsdale talked about the differences between raising property taxes for the extra money versus the sales tax increase.

“With an income tax, as your salary goes up, the amount you pay goes up. Property taxes don’t work that way for us. So this way, you would be getting $30 million additional dollars for public education. You could fund virtually everything that you are talking about and more. Teacher salary improvements, capital improvements, the whole bit,” he said.

Some of the teachers expressed concerns that the money would be earmarked for education and then, with another referendum later on, given to another area.

“It can only be passed through a referendum vote of the citizens and you can designate that to whatever you would like,” Leuthold said.

“And with sales tax, that has never happened. Wherever it has been assigned it has stayed,” Ragsdale added.

“We have gone longer than any county in Tennessee without a property tax increase because most of the time after reappraisal they will bump it up a little bit to get some growth. We have grown exclusively through economic growth … new jobs, wealth creation and that type thing.

The City of Knoxville would have to agree to go along with the idea before it could be put to a vote by the citizens, and both the City and the County would have to agree that all the money would be earmarked for education.

In the middle of an economic downturn would Knox Countians be willing to vote in a higher sales tax for themselves?

According to Ragsdale, it is going to happen anyway and the choice is whether or not to let the state take it or to use it locally.

“Here is what is going to happen. We can either do it, or have someone do it for you, and if they do it, you are not going to see a penny of it because they have to balance t their budget too,” he said.

“[The state is] $800 million in the hole right now,” Hammond said.

“There are only two ways you are going to get more money, either raise property taxes or go before the citizens and say ‘Let’s go ahead and take the sales tax before the state gets it,’” he added.


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