Rhea eyes wheel tax to fund jail, school

Rhea eyes wheel tax to fund jail, school

February 10th, 2011 by Tom Davis in News

DAYTON, Tenn. -- Rhea County commissioners agreed this week they need to find a way to pay for a jail and a new high school, but uncertainty about how much the projects will cost stalled a decision.

During a workshop session, Commissioner Tommy Smith suggested the board consider adopting a wheel tax at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Finance Director Bill Graham responded, "I can tell you what [a tax] will bring in, but I don't know what a jail, a new high school and renovations will cost."

Commissioners suggested asking state Rep. Jim Cobb, R-Spring City, and state Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, to introduce legislation that could implement a wheel tax in January 2012. But they agreed they wouldn't know how much money is needed until too late in the legislative session to make that a practical solution.

"We have to wait to get the figures before we do anything," commission Chairman Ronnie Raper said.

Graham said bonds used to build Rhea Central Elementary will be retired in 2012. Combining the debt repayment money and revenue from a sales tax dedicated to school construction would yield about $1 million per year for debt service. A $50 wheel tax would produce about $1.4 million, he said.

Raper said he expects a cost estimate on the jail to be available within two weeks. But Director of Schools Jerry Levengood said it could be some time before school plans are at a point where costs can be estimated.

In other matters, commissioners agreed to vote on a proposal by Highway Superintendent Tommy Snyder to borrow $2 million to pave roads. Snyder said he would use mineral severance tax revenue and the 3 cent property tax appropriation to repay the loan over 10 years.

Commissioners also agreed to consider a recommendation by County Executive George Thacker to borrow $250,000 to upgrade county fire departments.

Tom Davis is based in Rhea County. E-mail him at tsdavis@volstate.net.