Rhea County leaders eye $50 wheel tax

Rhea County leaders eye $50 wheel tax

December 12th, 2012 by Tom Davis in News

Sheriff Mike Neal stands in front of the Rhea County Sheriff's Department in this file photo.

Photo by Sean McCombs

POLL: Should Rhea County have a wheel tax?

DAYTON, Tenn. -- Rhea County commissioners will consider imposing a $50 wheel tax to balance the county's budget, and they will discuss options for relieving jail overcrowding and courthouse security problems.

Meeting in workshop session Tuesday, commissioners said a wheel tax could be imposed by their January meeting, take effect soon after and ease the budget shortfall expected for the coming year.

Finance Director Bill Graham said a $50 wheel tax would raise about $1.2 million per year and "cover what the deficit was last year. But going forward, I don't see anything getting cheaper."

"We've got to do something," Commissioner Emmaly Fisher said. "As I've said probably every meeting, that [a wheel tax] is what my constituents tell me they prefer."

On the proposed jail or justice center, Commissioner Ron Masterson reported the county has been notified by officials in the state comptroller's office that that office would not approve financing plans based on litigation taxes or state prisoner boarding fees.

Gary Hays, a budget adviser from the County Technical Advisory Service, said he believes the comptroller would consider only a financing plan based on property or wheel tax revenue. A $15 million project would require a 16 cent property tax allocation, he said. That figure has been cited as the possible cost of a new jail/justice center.

Masterson told Hays and Sheriff Mike Neal, "The only thing I ask is that people give us time to sit down and make a decision."

Neal said he has provided information, paid for planning and worked to increase capacity from 49 beds when he took office to the jail's present 87-bed capacity.

"This is you all's responsibility," he said. "There's nothing left for me to do."

Tom Davis is based in Dayton. Contact him at tsdavis@volstate.net.