CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The first draft of a proposed wheel tax for Bradley County is in the works, and it may appear in a referendum vote during the presidential primary elections in February.
The proposed $32 wheel tax — applied each time a vehicle is registered in the county — will be dedicated to funding educational needs, according to the initial draft composed by commissioners in a specially called meeting Monday. The tax initiative was created in response to an estimated $38 million in priority capital projects for county and city schools.
Education Chairman Jeff Yarber, Finance Chairwoman Connie Wilson and County Attorney Crystal Freiberg wrestled with technical details of ensuring the wheel tax revenue went to school needs and explored exemptions based on age and income.
“We know what our intentions are,” said Yarber, adding that he wanted to prevent a future commission from simply redirecting the wheel tax’s dedicated school funding to other needs.
Commissioners agreed that the wheel tax draft resolution’s language should not be ambiguous as to where and how the collected fees would be allocated.
Instead of applying all wheel tax revenue directly to school budget lines, it should be applied to an educational sub-category of the county’s debt service, Commissioner Ed Elkins recommended. He noted that the county likely will have to borrow money initially to fund the schools’ capital projects instead of paying for them directly out of pocket.
Freiberg said Tennessee statutes generally limited exemptions to veterans or prisoners of war with 100 percent disability. However, she said the county might be able to offer exemptions through private acts if not within the wheel tax resolution itself.
Yarber and Wilson said they would like the wheel tax exemptions to match those offered to property owners through the county’s tax freeze program. Those exemptions now apply to people 65 years of age or older who do not have annual incomes exceeding $29,540.
To include a wheel tax referendum on the presidential primary elections in February, Freiberg said, the County Commission will have to approve it soon, as the election commission will need 45 to 60 days to prepare. The county likely will have to wait until the general elections in August for the referendum vote if it misses the deadline for the February primaries. Neither will cost the county extra money.
If the proposed wheel tax passes in February, Commission Chairman Louie Alford suggested July 1 as its start date so it could coincide with annual budgeting.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.