CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County voters will decide in August whether to levy a wheel tax to fund capital school projects.
On Monday, county commissioners voted 12-2 to place a $32 wheel tax -- assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- on the August ballot. Commissioners Ed Elkins and Mel Griffith opposed the plan.
The wheel tax would go into effect on Jan. 1 if the referendum is approved.
"My personal opinion is that this commission is shirking its responsibility and it's our job to fund schools," said Commissioner Jeff Morelock. "Once again, I'll go out on a political limb and say, if it was up to me, we'd vote on a property tax increase to fund this and be over and done with."
The commission's Education and Finance committees drafted the wheel tax proposal last fall in response to a $25.5 million funding request by Bradley County Schools. Major uses for the money include renovations to Lake Forest Middle School, an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School and a new elementary school in southern Bradley County.
The proposed wheel tax would include a few exceptions. Motorcycles would be charged $16 and low-income elderly who qualify for the county's property tax freeze would be exempt.
The county also would have some flexibility regarding whether to use wheel tax revenues for new or existing debts on education capital projects.
That aspect of the tax leaves too much ambiguity, Elkins said.
"I think it's somewhat unfair to the school system to let them go out and sell it and then deny them the full amount of this for the projects that they are requesting and that they've worked hard for," he said.
Commission Chairman Louie Alford has previously has stated that he did not want the commission's support of the wheel tax referendum to indicate it would commit to funding nearly $38 million in capital school projects.
If the county fully funds the requests, it must raise an additional $12 million for Cleveland City Schools. Under an agreement between the two systems based on student populations, city schools receive $1 for every $3 the county raises for its schools.
The tax referendum is meant to serve as a platform for the school system to convince voters that the money is needed, Education Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber said.
Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.