published Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Bradley County GOP leaders say no to wheel tax

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    Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Republican Party has approved a resolution opposing passage of a $32 wheel tax in an Aug. 2 referendum.

The party's executive committee approved the resolution, and discussion could continue this evening at the party's monthly meeting.

There was no organized opposition in 2009 when first Cleveland, then Bradley County residents approved a half-cent sales tax increase in separate referendums.

"We stood idly by then," GOP Secretary Adam Lewis said Monday. "We learned our lesson. We are not going to make the same mistake again.

"As you can tell, we are against the principle of it," Lewis said.

The tax would be assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county.

On May 1, the Cleveland Board of Education adopted a resolution supporting the County Commission's call for a referendum. The Cleveland City Council, in a 6-1 vote, did the same May 14.

While the county school board has not adopted a resolution of support, individual members, including Chairman Charlie Rose and Schools Director Johnny McDaniel, have spoken in favor of a yes vote.

On the Bradley County Schools website there is a list of frequently asked questions about the tax, if it passes. The article is headlined "A vote for the wheel tax is a vote for our kids. Questions?"

Some schools have posted an appeal on their outdoor signs, urging "yes" votes.

City Schools Director Martin Ringstaff said opponents "simply have not read both resolutions that deal with the wheel tax in its complete reading, and they are putting out incorrect information. The entire wheel tax is locked into education and education debt service."

The Republican Party resolution notes the National Republican Party Platform "clearly states individual citizens should keep more of what they earn because individuals know best how to make their own economic decisions, and government should tax only to raise money for its essential functions."

Bradley County now is $78 million in debt, the resolution points out, of which $64 million is education-related. Money raised from the wheel tax "will simply be a revenue stream used to borrow an additional $32 million and place a huge debt upon future generations," the resolution states.

The wheel tax "is being falsely marketed to the citizens of Bradley County as necessary for the functioning of local schools," the resolution states, and schools will not benefit after the first year.

"All viable alternatives must be adequately explored and expenditures prioritized and deemed essential," the resolution states.

"There has to be another solution," party Vice Chairwoman Debbie Williams said. "Have we not learned from our national debt debacle? We went through this debate in 2009 with the sales tax increase. In reality, only one year of the sales tax increase went toward educational projects. The wheel tax is being sold in much the same way."

Ringstaff took issue with the accusation that the wheel tax is being falsely marketed. The growing population and need for classroom space have been documented, he said.

"I am in complete agreement that we must keep taxes low, but at what expense?" Ringstaff said in a written reply to questions emailed to both school board members and directors. "Take the politics out of this and realize that more people living in Bradley County means more schools.

"I am not politicizing any of this topic. We have picked up over 340 students in the past one and one-half years, and the trend has not slowed down."

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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