JASPER, Tenn. -- Growing mistrust from Marion County residents about the upcoming wheel tax referendum has county commissioners pushing to persuade the public.
In October, the commission avoided a possible special election by voting to put the wheel tax question on the March ballot.
If the tax passes, the referendum states that the commission will use that money to offset the property tax hike that was approved in August, Commission Chairman Les Price said.
Commissioner Mack Reeves said county residents simply don't trust the commission to do what it says it will do with the money, and many think the wheel tax will be raised in the future.
"The question has been brought up to me while talking to people that they feel like we won't leave [the wheel tax] at $50," he said.
Reeves said he told one resident recently that the commission had no intention of raising the tax later.
"I told her we're all agreed that's what we're going to do," he said. "She said, 'You may have good faith, but you're not going to live forever.'"
Commissioner Ralph Pickett said he has been told by constituents that they don't believe the commission's intentions.
"They said, 'I don't believe a word of it. Once [the commission] gets [the money], they're going to keep it,'" he said. "I told them they can believe what they want, but that's what [commissioners] said they would do."
Price said that attitude bothers him.
"People empowered us and gave us the vote to make these decisions, and now they don't trust us to make these decisions," he said.
After speaking with Marion County Attorney Billy Gouger, Reeves said approving a resolution stating that the board would not raise the wheel tax might be an option, but some commissioners questioned how binding it would be.
"I think it would be a good idea [to approve that resolution] to build some credibility with the people in the county," Reeves said.
Gouger said a resolution "would last until a future County Commission decided they wanted to change the resolution."
The wheel tax money must be used to offset the property tax hike "at least for the 2012-13 fiscal year," according to the March referendum, he said.
"In the years beyond that, [commissioners] will have different options," Gouger said.
Gouger said state law does not fix a limit on a wheel tax.
"It can be whatever a County Commission wants it to be," he said.
Instead of drafting a resolution, commissioners voted 12-3 to draft a letter explaining the purpose of the wheel tax that would be submitted to local and area newspapers.
Commissioner Don Adkins said the board understands what it wants to do with the wheel tax, but the public doesn't.
"A lot of the questions that have been raised are about the amount of the wheel tax and how that money will be utilized," Adkins said. "We need to educate the public about what our intentions were and let them decide with the referendum in March."
Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.