If passed by the Commission in its present form, residents would be voting in August 2012 on whether the county could implement a $32 tax per registered vehicle in Bradley County. The new tax would be paid when a resident registers or renews registration on their vehicle.
“We have justifiable needs in education and the folks are going to have to decide what they want — if the needs merit the expense. And that’s what a referendum does,” Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said.
According to the resolution, “motorcycles, motor-driven bicycles and scooters, farm tractors, self-propelled farm machines not usually used for operation upon public highways or roads, and motor vehicles owned by any governmental agency or governmental instrumentality” would be exempt from the tax.
The state also exempts permanently disabled veterans and former prisoners of war from paying a wheel tax.
Further exemptions would complicate the collection process because the state sends the bills for vehicle registration, but does not keep track of the exemptions that each county has passed, education committee member Jeff Yarber said.
During a meeting earlier in the day, Yarber, finance committee chair Connie Wilson, Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg and legislative assistant Amy Moore discussed the possibility of granting an exemption for those who currently qualify for the property tax freeze program. Yarber said this would be the only additional group he would want to have an exemption.
Although the tax would be collected by the county clerk, Moore said the clerk would not be responsible for keeping track of who was exempt. The clerk’s office would receive 5 percent of the wheel tax revenue as dictated by the state.
The group drafted a possible resolution for the tax to be on the ballot for voters to decide. This draft was further revised during the education meeting Monday night.
Other exemptions could be added at a later date by a private act of the County Commission, according to Freiberg.
“I think the logic that caused this Commission to pass an exemption for (elderly) people on fixed income below a certain income transcends that particular issue and moves into this,” Lowe said during the education meeting.
Yarber said this could be discussed when the issue is addressed by the entire Commission.
How the $32 tax would be divided was a topic of both meetings.
There was discussion about putting one-third of the revenue in the debt service fund so the county could borrow the money.
“If you put it in debt service and you don’t tie stipulations to it … what’s to say a Commission at a future date can’t come back and use it for debt service?” Yarber asked.
Committee member Jeff Morelock said the majority of the wheel tax revenue would be needed to fund debt service to borrow the $38 million needed for the Bradley County Schools immediate capital project needs and the Cleveland City Schools portion.
The solution was to create a line item within debt service specifically for education capital projects. Currently, $67 million of the county’s debt is from school projects, according to the most recent audit.
Yarber said if the Commission passes the resolution, “It is then the schools’ job to go out and say, ‘We need this,’ and sell this.”
This is one reason committee members chose the August election over having a special election, so that voters would be more informed on the issue when they went to vote on it.
If passed by referendum, the tax would not go into effect until about November 2012, according to Freiberg.
The education committee also chose to save about $10,000 in implementing the tax, if passed, by eliminating wheel tax decals that some counties use.
Freiberg said residents will not be able to renew their vehicle registration without paying the tax.
However, before voters get to have their say the resolution has to be passed by eight votes of the County Commission authorizing the issue to be placed on the ballot. Monday’s education meeting was held after the Commission’s voting session and the wheel tax issue was not discussed at the meeting.