Nothing could be further from the truth.
Cleveland and Bradley County residents remain as pro-education today as they were prior to the Bradley County Commission’s decision to place the Wheel Tax Referendum on the ballot. The problem lies in how to pay for rising educational needs — in both the county and city — at a time when local government debt grows and community residents continue to struggle under the burden of a crippling recession whose five-year stranglehold has cost jobs, homes and in some cases hope.
Although signs of economic recovery continue to dot the horizon — depending on which financial analyst is talking — Bradley County voters have made it clear they are not ready to take on another tax; at least, not yet.
Like the sands on a hot Florida beach, the reasons are plentiful. Some might argue it doesn’t matter why. It was a landslide “no” vote. Enough said. The people have spoken.
Yes they have. But not so fast. Understanding why people feel as they do is half the battle in regaining public trust which can go a long way in asking constituents to embrace change in the future, even if it means paying a little extra.
Here are just a few reasons we believe Bradley County stamped a big “no” on the $32 wheel tax proposal:
1. It’s just another tax. If the average household has two vehicles, that’s $64 more in annual vehicle registration fees; three vehicles would cost another $96.
2. It’s an opportunity for even further taxation; if authorized by voters at a $32 click this year, the wheel tax amount conceivably could be increased in years ahead depending on continued growth, the needs of education and local government indebtedness.
3. Even if a wheel tax is imposed, many voters feel county commissioners eventually will be forced to hike property tax rates; their reckoning perhaps was, “Why say ‘yes’ to a wheel tax this year when they’re still going to raise my property taxes next year or beyond?”
4. Discontentedness. Although we believe their hearts were in the right place and their actions were well-intended, the Bradley County and Cleveland City school systems — in the eyes of some — crossed the line with the pre-election campaigning, and the use of school-owned marquees, in support of the wheel tax referendum. The net result was public furor which led to the avalanche of “no” votes.
5. Growth weary. Bradley County’s unprecedented development over the past few years is a blessing to this community, but it comes with growing pains. Such pains are inclusive of the need for improved infrastructure. This modernization requires spending. Because money doesn’t grow on Cleveland trees, it means area residents might be asked to help pave the way. Growth is good, but growth requires planning. Without an organized strategy, growth can be as frightening and unpredictable as a runaway train. Most residents do not oppose growth, but they would like time to catch their breath ... if economic development has the time to give.
6. Cash strapped. It’s this simple. Many families are tasked just to keep the bills paid and food on the table. Between rent, mortgage, medicine and car payments, some can ill-afford another expense.
Most who campaigned against the wheel tax assuredly are relieved at the vote, yet some remain angry at the education and government leaders who supported it. They are making veiled threats against re-election campaigns in two years. This cannot be justified. While not everyone agrees with a chosen course by government and education, their leaders should not be targeted simply for seeking the public’s opinion by ballot.
If anything, last week’s vote on the Wheel Tax Referendum was an exercise in American freedom. As Bradley County residents, it was our right to choose. And we did.
Now let us move ahead in a spirit of cooperation, not confrontation. Like it or not, and regardless of “for” and “against” mindsets, these issues of debt and education must still be faced.
Perhaps the time has come to re-explore compromise. Maybe a Plan B, C or D remains in the offing, if only we will look.
But this we do know.
This is our community. We are its caregivers. Let us work together in nurturing its future.