Bradley County commission gets wheel tax draft

Bradley County commission gets wheel tax draft

December 13th, 2011 by Paul Leach in News

Bradley County Commission Chairman Louie Alford

POLL: Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- A proposed wheel tax for Bradley County may be put on the August 2012 general election ballot.

The County Commission is reviewing the proposed $32 wheel tax, intended to fund $38 million in major education projects.

Education Committee Chairman Jeff Yarber distributed copies of the wheel tax draft to the commission in an abbreviated work session Monday.

The draft proposes that a wheel tax -- assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- should be put to a referendum in the August 2012 general election.

"I know a lot of questions will come forward, and I don't want it tied up for months and months," said Yarber, who asked the commission to review the draft before January's work sessions.

The draft proposes to dedicate wheel tax revenues for capital school projects, as opposed to feeding the county's general debt service, school budgets or the general fund.

Commission Chairman Louie Alford asked if and how the wheel tax revenues could be applied to Bradley's $67 million in school-related debt, which is pooled in the county's general debt service.

"That's something we'll all discuss," Yarber said.

Even though the wheel tax proposal was a Bradley County Education Committee initiative, Commissioner Adam Lowe said the matter was open to the "super view" of the entire commission for a "holistic financial picture."

"This [the wheel tax] was an Education Committee discussion about education," Lowe said. "Obviously, the parameters of a wheel tax can extend beyond education."

Yarber has said he thinks earmarking wheel tax revenues specifically for capital school expenditures will free up other money to be spent on other infrastructure needs.

The wheel tax proposal was the joint response of the commission's education and finance committees to meet $25.5 million in county school funding requests for priority building and renovation projects at Lake Forest Middle School and Walker Valley High School, a new elementary school in southern Bradley County and land for a new middle school.

Cleveland City Schools -- which receives $1 out of every $3 raised by the county for county schools, based on student populations -- could gain $12 million for a new elementary school in the Hardwick Farms area near North Lee Highway.

Charlie Rose, chairman of the county school board, and Martin Ringstaff, director of city schools, have praised the commission's efforts to meet the needs of the local school systems.

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