Presenting his reasons for opposing a wheel tax was Rotarian John Stanbery. Bradley County Board of Education Chairman Charlie Rose presented information on why the school system needed the money.
Early voting on the issue has already begun.
“Whether we agree or disagree we should be encouraging these kinds of discussions,” Stanbery said. “Opposition to the wheel tax is not opposition to education. We’re simply opposed to increasing the county debt load.”
Stanbery said based on current estimated debt and estimated debt to be incurred, if the wheel tax is passed the county would be $110 million in debt.
Stanbery said that because of the amount of debt the county already has the only way to increase debt is to create a revenue stream to fund it.
Money from the wheel tax is projected to bring in $1.8 million a year. Based on these figures, Stanbery said, it could be 18 to 20 years before the debt for the proposed projects is paid off if revenues remain flat.
“Bradley County has spent $9.2 million more than we took in over the past 10 years,” Stanberry said.
He said this debt is a concern because it will have a negative impact in the future because it will lead to higher taxes.
“We simply, in this county, have to prioritize,” Stanbery said.
He said projected revenue from new industries such as Wacker Polysilicon North America have already been committed to future projects. He said that the real issue at the heart of the wheel tax discussion was excess spending.
The proposed needs the wheel tax would fill will not increase the number of students the school system can serve, according to Stanbery. He said even if the wheel tax is passed the county will not be able to borrow more in the future and will again have to look at a property tax increase if another major need arises and revenues remain flat.
“The solution is simple but hard; we need to tighten our belts, prioritize our needs, delay our wants and cut spending to live within our needs,” he stressed.
The Bradley County Board of Education has requested funding for an expansion at Walker Valley High School, a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School and an elementary school in the Blue Springs area.
“As a school board member I feel we have these needs,” Rose said.
Rose said the public education system needs to prepare students for the future and equip them for the job market.
“I think we should support our children,” Rose said.
Rose said his experience of attending the Little Rock, Ark., Central High School as it was integrating gave him a great appreciation for the challenges to attaining an education.
“It really impressed me what some people sacrificed to have a public education,” Rose said.
Rose said he appreciated how specific the wheel tax resolution passed by the Bradley County Commission was. The resolution lists maximum events to go to each project.
Rose emphasized the wheel tax cannot be increased at any time. The only way the tax could be increased would be by having a majority vote twice by the Commission or referendum, according to Rose. If the Commission did pass an increase, residents can petition that the issue go to referendum, Rose said.
He emphasized that the school system’s only funding source is community members.
“Do you think that it is worth $32 a year to fund the needs of our school system?” Rose said.