published Friday, December 2nd, 2011

Bradley County studies wheel tax for education needs

Poll
Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County commissioners are taking a serious look at funding school needs through a wheel tax.

The county's Education and Finance Committees agreed this week that a resolution for a wheel tax proposal should be drafted and reviewed as soon as possible.

“I don’t think the citizens can bear at this time a property tax,” Finance Committee Chairwoman Connie Wilson said Wednesday. “I think giving them a voice to generate revenue for schools is the fair way to do it as far as a wheel tax and putting it on the ballot.”

A wheel tax of $32 to $35 — applied each time a vehicle is registered in the county — is up for discussion. The tax initiative is expected to fund an estimated $38 million in priority capital projects for county and city schools.

The county school system needs $25.5 million for improvements and a new building for Lake Forest Middle School; an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School; land for a third middle school; and a new elementary school in southern Bradley County.

If the county raises money for those capital projects, city schools will receive $12 million. For every $3 the county raises for school funding, the city receives $1, based on student populations.

The city plans to build a new elementary school with that money, according to Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools.

Education Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber said he believed a referendum vote would be the best way to handle the matter. It only would take a petition of 2,100 signatures to bring the issue to a referendum, he said, even if the commission passed a wheel tax in the first place.

If the County Commission puts the matter up for referendum, members said they likely will ask that it be placed on the August 2012 ballot.

The commissioners expressed a number of concerns about whether to use any portion of the wheel tax to fund other infrastructure needs or county employee merit programs. But that met with resistance.

“As we complicate the wheel tax, it’s going to become less and less palatable,” Commissioner Adam Lowe said.

Lowe also asked County Attorney Crystal Freiberg to research the possibility of exempting senior citizens through the wheel tax resolution itself or by a private act.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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