published Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Bradley County reviews wheel tax analysis

By Paul Leach/Correspondent

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Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Bradley County commissioners are not sure a proposed $32 wheel tax -- applied each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- will generate enough revenue to borrow the money needed to fund an estimated $38 million in capital school projects.

In a Monday evening meeting, commissioners reviewed a financial analysis prepared by the Bradley County mayor's office, which estimated the county could afford to borrow up to $34.6 million using wheel tax revenues.

"If we want to fund what they [the school system] requests, we're going to have to have a larger wheel tax," said Commissioner Jeff Morelock.

Chairman Louie Alford recommended that the Finance Committee review the matter further before the commission comes to any decisions on how it wants to apply wheel tax revenues.

While the wheel tax proposal recommends that generated revenues be applied to a special education line item under the county's debt service, some commissioners have expressed a desire to apply some of the revenues toward the county's general debt, which already encompasses $67 million in education-related debt.

"I have a little bit of a problem with that money because it doesn't pay anything down on our debt now," said Alford. "I think we need to specify where that money's going."

Using 2010 vehicle registration data as a model, the report estimated that the proposed wheel tax would apply to nearly 86,000 vehicles. The analysis estimated that the county would collect $2.75 million in tax revenue based on that number. This would leave $2.56 million for education-related funding after paying commissions to the county clerk and trustee offices.

The wheel tax proposal, which calls for the matter to come before Bradley County voters as a referendum item on the August 2012 ballot, has received little direct support from many county commissioners except as a vehicle for the public's decision.

Instead, commissioners say the referendum is a platform for the county school board to convince voters of the need to fund major capital projects that include renovations to Lake Forest Middle School, an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School, land for a new middle school and a new elementary school in southern Bradley County.

In the meantime, Bradley County Schools is pursuing Federal Emergency Management Agency grants for storm-resistant construction that could reduce their needs by up to $5 million.

If the wheel tax referendum passes, county leaders recommend making it effective Jan 1, 2013.

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

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