published Wednesday, October 10th, 2012

Sequatchie County sales tax returning to ballot

  • photo
    Administrator of Elections Linda Pittman Tate
    Photo by Dan Henry /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

EARLY VOTING

Early voting begins Oct. 17 and continues until Nov. 1 at the Election Commission office at 68 Spring St. in Dunlap, Tenn. Early voting hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CDT Monday through Friday; and Saturday 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. CDT. Voters should note that their clocks will roll back to Central Standard Time between the end of early voting and Election Day on Nov. 6.

Election Day hours in Sequatchie County will be 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. CST. For questions, go to www.tn.gov/sos/election or call the state voter hotline at 1-877-850-4959 or the Sequatchie County Election Commission at 423-949-2431.

Sequatchie County voters for the second time this year will weigh in on a proposed half-cent sales tax increase when they go to the polls in November.

The first time in February almost 59 percent of voters said "no."

The increase would boost revenue levels and build a lagging $250,000 county fund balance back to its normal $500,000 mark, Sequatchie County Executive Keith Cartwright said. The money also would keep finances in good shape as a new school looms in the county's future, he said.

The increase is expected to generate about $500,000.

County leaders also want to increase the rate to protect that half-cent against future increases in state sales tax, Cartwright said. Tennessee's sales tax now is at 7 percent, Sequatchie's is 9.25 percent and the state mandates a top rate of 9.75 percent.

There's "no guarantee" the state will go after that half cent, County Commission Chairman Tommy Johnson said, but in hard times, state bean counters could turn an eye toward available sales tax in counties that haven't taken up the half-cent gap in the 9.75 percent maximum.

"We feel like the state is eventually going to access that half-cent and we want to beat them to the punch," Cartwright said.

Shifting revenue streams toward sales tax will keep the burden off county property tax payers, he said, pointing to a recent feasibility study by restaurant chain Wendy's showing "45 to 50 percent" of Sequatchie's sales taxes come from out-of-town visitors.

Since only a little more than four out of 10 voters favored the hike in February, county officials have launched an informational campaign describing the benefits.

County Commission Chairman Tommy Johnson said Cartwright and commissioners will publish a letter in the local newspaper and hold community question-and-answer meetings with constituents over the next couple of weeks.

Of the annual sales tax revenue received by Sequatchie, county government gets 11.11 percent, the city of Dunlap, Tenn., gets 16.66 percent and county schools get 72.22 percent.

When voters said "no" to the hike in February, only 1,671 ballots were cast, Administrator of Elections Linda Pittman Tate said Tuesday, but November's presidential election could draw record numbers to the polls.

Tate said the biggest turnout in recent years came in 2008, when 5,514 of registered voters, or 64.43 percent, cast ballots in Sequatchie.

"I'd say we'll have 68 or 70 percent vote," she said, though she didn't predict what impact that level of turnout would have on the sales tax referendum.

about Ben Benton...

Ben Benton is a news reporter at the Chattanooga Times Free Press. He covers Southeast Tennessee and previously covered North Georgia education. Ben has worked at the Times Free Press since November 2005, first covering Bledsoe and Sequatchie counties and later adding Marion, Grundy and other counties in the northern and western edges of the region to his coverage. He was born and raised in Cleveland, Tenn., a graduate of Bradley Central High School. Benton ...

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