The Bradley County Commission passed a resolution to take a $32 wheel tax proposal to referendum during its voting session Tuesday. The resolution passed 12-2. Commissioners Ed Elkins and Mel Griffith were the only dissenting votes.
“The reason I did not vote in support of the resolution is because I felt there was too much ambiguity and a lot of questions that remained to be answered,” Elkins said. “I don’t want to ask the people to vote for something until there is full disclosure of all the ramifications.”
Griffith said the money could be collected over time without a tax increase.
“In a few years they (Bradley County Schools) will be able to get what they need without raising taxes. All of them (the requested projects) are needs, but none of them are emergencies,” Griffith said.
A wheel tax has been long discussed as a possible option for financing a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School, expansion at Walker Valley High School, replacing Blue Springs Elementary School and funding a new middle school.
The resolution sets the rate of the wheel tax at $16 for motorcycles and makes provision to apply the county’s tax freeze program currently used for elderly and low-income residents to the wheel tax.
Seventh District Commissioner Bill Winters said granting exemptions for certain groups created a “slippery slope” that could lead to numerous groups asking to be considered for exemptions.
Fourth district Commissioner J. Adam Lowe said applying the tax freeze would address some concerns about the tax.
According to the resolution, if the tax is passed by the voters, collection will begin Jan. 1, 2013.
“All proceeds of this tax shall be deposited in the Debt Service Fund, for principal, interest and fees on education capital projects,” according to the resolution.
If passed, the tax would be paid by registered drivers at the time of car registration. A wheel tax would be applied to every vehicle registration that is not exempt. Exemptions include “motor-driven bicycles and scooters, farm tractors, self-propelled farm machines not usually used for operation upon public highways or roads, and motor-driven vehicles owned by any governmental agency ... and other exemptions approved by general law.”
Fourth District Commissioner Cliff Eason asked if money from a disaster mitigation grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency the school system is applying for had been taken into consideration in the resolution. Fifth District Commissioner Jeff Yarber said the school system did not know whether it had received the grant, and the projected $5 million in grant money had not been considered.
A motion to pass a $37 wheel tax had been proposed and was voted down, 9-5.
The $37 amount was proposed by 3rd District Commissioner Jeff Morelock after calculations showed a $32 wheel tax would not generate enough revenue to fund borrowing the entire amount needed to complete all of the requested projects.
“If we don’t have enough borrowing power to fund this entire request, if that’s what we decide to do ... it’s going to take $37 for a 20-year, 5 percent bond,” Morelock said. “I’m for helping the schools with whatever tax we have to pass.”
The Commission has not officially approved moving forward with any of the current school capital requests being discussed.
Eason, Lowe and 6th District Commissioner Robert Rominger disclosed before the vote their connections to local school systems. Each said these connections had not influenced their vote. Eason works for Cleveland City Schools, as does Lowe’s wife, and Rominger works for Bradley County Schools.
Also during the meeting:
- Third District Commissioner Brian Smith updated the Commission that Prospect Elementary and Walker Valley High School were working on getting crossing guards in response to the safety concerns at the sites discussed by commissioners.
- A resolution was passed authorizing Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg to enter into a settlement with Dr. Jerry DeVane for a quit-claim deed to land on the end of his property. The county plans to remove approximately 98 feet of barbed-wire fence and some trees from the property to solve a road safety issue. The barbed-wire fence will then be replaced at the new boundary line. If more fencing is removed from this deeded property to widen the road, the county will pay for the replacement, according to the resolution.