published Tuesday, April 17th, 2012

Bradley County allocates wheel tax dollars

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County commissioners have decided exactly how revenues from a proposed wheel tax will be spent.

On Monday, commissioners voted 13-0 to allocate revenues from a proposed $32 wheel tax -- assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- to pay for $32 million in new capital projects for the county and Cleveland school systems.

However, any revenues in excess of those required to fund the new projects may be allocated to the county's existing $67 million in education-related debt.

The proposed wheel tax will appear on the Aug. 2 ballot as a referendum item.

"My wish is that the commission would get behind this and support it," said Commissioner Jeff Morelock. "I plan to."

The Bradley County Education and Finance Committees offered the wheel tax proposal in response to $21 million in capital funding requests made by Bradley County Schools. Proposed projects include renovations to Lake Forest Middle School, an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School and a new elementary school for southern Bradley County.

Fully funding the county school projects means Cleveland City Schools will receive nearly $11 million. Under an agreement between the two school systems, based on student populations, the city school system receives $1 for every $2 raised for the county system.

City school officials have said they would like to build a new elementary school in the Hardwick Farms area near North Lee Highway.

Not all Bradley County commissioners have fully endorsed the plan to allocate wheel tax revenues to pay for new projects first.

The current plan is not flexible enough, said Commissioner Ed Elkins, who voiced concerns that the county should consider paying off more expensive debt first, regardless of when it is incurred.

Despite his concern, he voted in favor of using the money for new projects.

With the expenditure of wheel tax revenues clarified by the county commission, other officials plan to educate the public about the details of the proposed wheel tax.

Bradley County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said she was making efforts to compose referendum wording that would be "very simple, very clear, very concise" to voters.

Education officials have said community meetings will be held, especially in areas directly benefited by proposed wheel tax funding.

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

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