published Wednesday, July 4th, 2012

Bradley County Commission OKs tight budget

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission has approved another tight budget for the new fiscal year, but not without reservations.

The approved budget calls for no increase in property taxes, increasing the general fund and providing a 1.6 percent raise for full-time county employees.

At a commission meeting Monday, a struggle ensued to delay the setting of the property tax rate prior to a 14-0 vote to officially go with no tax increase.

Commissioners Jeff Morelock, Connie Wilson and Robert Rominger voted to delay the setting of the tax rate until Aug. 6 or later, but were opposed by the rest of the commissioners. The delay request, initiated by Morelock, was intended to give the commission a chance to revisit property tax levy options in case a proposed $32 wheel tax -- assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- fails in a referendum on the Aug. 2 ballot.

The wheel tax is intended to fund $21 million in priority capital requests by Bradley County Schools. Major projects include renovations to Lake Forest Middle School, an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School and a new elementary to replace storm-destroyed Blue Springs Elementary School in southern Bradley County.

"In my opinion we are shirking our responsibility when we put a vote like this off on the public when it's our responsibility ... to fund the schools," said Morelock.

Morelock expressed his support of the wheel tax -- or even a property tax increase, if necessary -- to fund the schools' needs.

The capital needs for Lake Forest, Walker Valley and the new elementary should be understood by Bradley County voters, said Commissioner Terry Caywood. However, he would not support Morelock's delay measure, comparing it to waving a big stick.

"The importance of the wheel tax needs to be known, but I don't think we ought to delay the passing of this budget for that purpose," said Caywood.

Commissioner Jeff Yarber said "There is no Plan B" to fund the schools' capital projects if the wheel tax fails to pass in referendum.

Commissioners also voted 13-1 to approve the budget proposed by the Bradley County mayor's office.

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

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