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Municipal Mayor Urges Caution as Organizations Push County-Wide Sales Tax Increase

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(Memphis) Early voting begins the next week in Tennessee and some local organizations are beginning to make their push.

 Leaders from organizations like Stand for Children and the Shelby County Democratic Party are urging voters to support a half-percent sales tax increase.

“They say schools will receive an extra $30 million to fund programs like Pre-K as well as bring in more guidance counselors.

“As a community we believe this is our most important issue,” Kenya Bradshaw, with Stand For Children. “Our children are our greatest asset and this actually shows that we can invest in them and that we support their education.”

This vote will only be for Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County.  Whatever voters decide could impact the funding for all municipal schools.  

That's why Bartlett's mayor is issuing a warning about the county-wide half-percent sales tax increase.

Mayor Keith McDonald says his city overwhelming voted for a half-cent sales tax increase to go towards funding their municipal schools.

But for them, it could be changing. In August, the Shelby County Commission voted to put their own tax referendum on the ballot. If voters approve it in November, it would override the municipalities’ tax increase and the county would then divide the money based on number of students in the municipal schools.

“Our citizens voted for the half-cent sales tax so we could have control. If we had asked them if they want a half-cent sales tax and it be split the way it’s going to be split, I'm pretty sure they wouldn't have voted for it,” said McDonald.

He says, either way, Bartlett will be okay because they will generate enough sales tax revenues from their stores. He believes other municipalities with fewer businesses may suffer and may have to raise property taxes to fund their schools.

McDonald hopes people in Memphis do not vote blindly on Referendum One, believing they'll get programs that the school board may not support.

“I think the citizens of Memphis should take a real, hard look at what their priorities are and make sure they're doing it on the basis of getting universal Pre-K,” said McDonald. “They better be sure they've got the votes on their school board to make that happen.”

This is the second possible tax increase on the ballot. Voters will also be considering a one-cent per gallon tax that will go to funding public transportation.