published Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Rhea seeks alternative to raising tax rate

By Tom Davis/Correspondent

DAYTON, Tenn. — Rhea County commissioners this week asked for alternatives to raising property taxes or implementing a wheel tax to fund building projects, but they received few suggestions.

“We’re not to the point where we are able to talk about an amount of tax,” Commission Chairman Ronnie Raper told more than 40 people at the Tuesday workshop. “We don’t know what the jail or the school is going to cost.”

Commissioners debated whether to plan a formal discussion at Tuesday’s business meeting of asking the county’s legislative representatives to pass a wheel tax.

Commissioner Ron Masterson suggested that it be placed on the agenda, with the amount of the tax to be determined later. But Commissioner Tommy Smith said, “If we put it on the agenda, we have to have a figure,” a position County Attorney Carol Ann Barron supported.

Commissioners said they face a May 26 deadline to provide Tennessee Corrections Institute members with funding information about the new jail, but Barron said that deadline “was set before the disaster declaration” and suggested the date might be extended.

Commissioner Emmaly Fisher said the school board expects to have updated cost information at its meeting today.

Commissioner Bill Hollin said that if a private act implementing the wheel tax is not introduced in the next several weeks, it can’t be considered before the next legislative session.

Several people in the audience urged commissioners not to raise property taxes or impose a wheel tax. One said if commissioners wish to pursue a wheel tax they should consult with their constituents about an acceptable level, guarantee no property tax increase for several years and consider exemptions for low-income residents.

Another suggested considering new ideas instead of building a jail or high school.

But Fisher said a new high school is needed to relieve overcrowding at the current high school, Rhea Central Elementary and Frazier Elementary.

Raper encouraged those present to contact their commissioners with suggestions to meet the county’s cost for the projects.

County Executive George Thacker, who was charged Friday with soliciting a prostitute in Knoxville, was not present.

At the beginning of the workshop, Raper said the commission would not talk about Thacker’s case.

“It is a criminal matter and cannot be discussed,” he said.

During the comment period, county resident June Griffin called for Thacker to resign.

Tom Davis is based in Dayton. Contact him at tsdavis@volstate.net

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