DAYTON, Tenn. - The Rhea County Commission's Budget Committee is asking department heads to cut their budgets by 13 percent.
The cuts are necessary, committee members say, to avoid the need for a property tax increase or wheel tax to finance a new high school or a new jail.
A wheel tax is a fee imposed when a car is registered in the county.
"We're being pressed to increase property taxes or impose a wheel tax for projects we are being forced to do," said Commissioner Ron Masterson, who introduced the motion. "We are a poor county; I don't think people can afford a wheel tax or property tax."
He said he does not favor dropping plans to build a jail or a high school, but said the county needs to tighten its fiscal belt as would a home-owner facing a similar situation.
But Commission Vice Chairwoman Emmaly Fisher said tightening the county's fiscal belt "is going to mean people's jobs."
"We have talked about [cutting budgets] in the past," Fisher said. "Some budgets come in so lean there is nothing to cut. Some are just spend, spend, spend."
But Commissioner Jim Reed said Masterson's idea "is at least another option. We're making an effort."
Masterson said he does not consider his proposal a permanent move, "but after we get them built, we'll see where we are."
The full commission, which met following the budget committee, did not address Masterson's plan, but Fisher reiterated the arguments for building a new high school.
"There is nothing wrong with the [present] building," she said. "The building is fine. We have just outgrown the building."
Building a new high school would allow the present building to be adapted to a middle school, relieving overcrowding at Rhea Central Elementary School, she said. Moving middle school students from Rhea Central also would allow students to be moved from the presently overcrowded Frazier Elementary, she said.
But Rhea County resident June Griffin reminded commissioners that the last time a wheel tax came up, voters rejected it 2-1 in a referendum.
Adam Sims, who owns Drive Away USA car dealership in Dayton, said that, while he doesn't want to pay higher taxes, the community has a responsibility to invest in the education of its children.