There’s a petition floating around Sale Creek asking its 2,600 or so residents if they’d rather be part of Rhea County.
So far, 100 people have signed, according Chris O’Keefe, the petition’s organizer.
“Whereas Sale Creek:
* Has little voice in what occurs in Hamilton County due to its population in comparison with some of the bigger population areas of the county;
* Is distinctly rural, the same as Rhea County, as opposed to the majority of Hamilton County being urban/suburban;
* Pays high Hamilton County taxes with very few services for those taxes, especially in comparison with other areas of the county that have higher populations or more wealthy tax bases;
* Whereas Hamilton County ... mandates vehicle emissions inspections for even rural areas of the county, and Rhea County has none;
* It is the desire of those signing this petition that Sale Creek ... be removed from the jurisdiction/limits of Hamilton County, and be incorporated into ... Rhea County.”
Source: Text of a petition to move Sale Creek to Rhea County
O’Keefe said he is fed up with mandatory car emissions tests and high property taxes in Hamilton County. The county services that Sale Creek receives don’t match what its residents pay in taxes.
“I decided I'm not going to be somebody that just complains,” O’Keefe said.
Hamilton County Commission Chairman Fred Skillern, whose district includes Sale Creek, said O’Keefe and the signers represent a “very small minority.” He said that unless a majority of Sale Creek residents support the petition, “I wouldn’t give it the time of day.”
Sale Creek is 12 minutes from Dayton, Tenn., and 30 from Chattanooga.
Skillern, O’Keefe and Rhea County Commission Chairman Ronnie Raper said moving Sale Creek into Rhea would require approval from two-thirds of each county’s commission just to get the issue before the state Legislature, which then would have to issue legislation for the switch to take place.
Raper said he would welcome any Sale Creek residents who want to move into his county.
“I'm real pleasantly surprised that Sale Creek wants to come up here,” he said.
Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey disagreed that Sale Creek isn’t getting what it pays for.
“We operate schools,” Ramsey said. “We operate safety. We maintain roads.”
But Rhea doesn’t have mandatory auto emissions tests.
O’Keefe said he’s spent $600 fixing his car so it would pass the test. Virginia Parham, another Sale Creek resident, said she will gladly sign the petition because she will have to spend $800 so her car will pass muster.
“The residents here feel Hamilton County isn’t doing anything for us except soaking up our tax money,” she said.
Rhea’s property taxes also are lower than Hamilton’s: $1.59 per $100 of assessed value compared to $2.76, or 43 percent less.
Jacky Reavley, chief of the Sale Creek Volunteer Fire Department, said he doesn’t see any benefit in moving to Rhea and worries that emergency services wouldn’t be as good.
He also doubts Rhea has the tax base to support the community’s schools — North Hamilton County Elementary and Sale Creek Middle-High.
Donna Welch, another Sale Creek resident, said she wants her children attending Hamilton County’s schools, not Rhea’s.
But some people lingering Wednesday in shops and stores along Dayton Pike in Sale Creek expressed a sense that the community is a distant place that the rest of the county doesn’t think too much about.
“(People here) probably do identify more with Rhea County,” said Kim Huff, a Soddy-Daisy resident who recently moved out of Sale Creek. “People don’t come out here unless they have to.”
Huff and other locals gossiped at a table at Fuller’s Place, a convenience store on Dayton Pike. She and Jack Gentry said that, so far, there’s only talk of moving to Rhea. Neither of them have seen the petition for moving and only know about it from media reports.
“We’re usually the gossip center of Sale Creek,” Huff said.
Richard Wilson, a professor of political science at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, said recent petition drives such as the one in Sale Creek and the ones in Chattanooga to recall the mayor and members of the City Council are a symptom of voter dissatisfaction.
“Both (Chattanooga and Sale Creek) are concerned about taxes and both petitions reflect a dissatisfaction with government in general,” he said.
“I think we might see more of those kinds of protests.”
Dan Whisenhunt covers Hamilton County government for the Times Free Press. A native of Mobile, Ala., Dan earned a degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Alabama. He won first place for best in-depth news coverage in the 2010 Alabama Press Association contest; the FOI-First Amendment Award in the 2007 Alabama Press Association contest; first place for best public service story in the Alabama AP Managing Editors contest in 2009 for economic coverage; and ...