Bradley County commission eyes changes to wheel tax plan

Bradley County commission eyes changes to wheel tax plan

February 14th, 2012 by Paul Leach in News

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Morelock

POLL: Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- Bradley County commissioners will vote next week on possible revisions to a proposed wheel tax intended to fund capital projects for the school system.

On Monday, commissioners discussed changes to the proposed wheel tax -- assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- that would allow Bradley some flexibility in allocating generated revenues to old and new capital-related school debt.

The commission also considered whether to exempt the county's 3,000 motorcycles from the wheel tax and whether to set the tax amount at $32 or $37.

Some commissioners expressed reluctance to levy a wheel tax on motorcycles, saying many are used only for recreational purposes.

"I think it's imposing an unfair penalty on owners of motorcycles," said Commissioner Ed Elkins, who said he was a motorcycle owner. "I can't support the resolution at all in its present form."

Commissioner Adam Lowe recommended a compromise on motorcycles, suggesting the wheel tax only require half as much for motorcycles, following existing registration practices.

The resolution to be presented to the commission next Monday sets the wheel tax amount at $32, but Commissioner Jeff Morelock said he would be in favor of $37.

"If we were to agree to fund the entire request of Bradley County Schools, it's going to take a $37 wheel tax to fund the request," Morelock said.

The county school system is requesting $25.5 million in capital funding to renovate Lake Forest Middle School, add an eight-classroom pod to Walker Valley High School and build a new elementary school in southern Bradley County.

If the county raises enough money to fully fund the borrowing power for these projects, it will need to raise another $12 million for Cleveland City Schools. Based on student populations, the county must raise $1 for city schools for every $2 it raises for county schools.

The only recommended revision to the wheel tax proposal that generated no public debate was the discretion to apply revenues to old or new school-related capital debt.

Commissioners said they plan to put the wheel tax before the voters as a referendum item on the August 2012 ballot.

"This commission isn't asking the general public to ante up this money," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, chairman of the Education Committee.

If Bradley County voters do not pass the wheel tax, there is no "Plan B" for the school funding requests, Yarber said.

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