Bradley County commissioners address wheel tax details

Bradley County commissioners address wheel tax details

March 28th, 2012 by Paul Leach in News

Bradley County Commissioner Jeff Yarber.

Photo by Paul Leach/Times Free Press.

WHAT'S NEXT

The Bradley County Commission next meets on Monday at 7 p.m. at the county courthouse.

POLL: Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Bradley County commissioners are trying to decide exactly how revenues from a proposed wheel tax will be spent on capital education projects.

On Monday, members of the Bradley County Education and Finance Committees voted to allocate revenues from a proposed $32 wheel tax -- assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county -- to debt service for $32 million in school building projects.

The plan stipulates that any revenues in excess of those required for funding new capital debt must be used to pay down the county's existing $67 million in education-related debt.

The proposed wheel tax will appear as a referendum item on the August ballot.

"If it [the wheel tax] stands a chance of passing, we need to be as transparent as possible," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, chairman of the Education Committee.

The wheel tax proposal was initiated last fall as a way to fund a number of capital projects cited as immediate needs by Bradley County Schools. Last fall, commissioners said the county did not have enough money to borrow $26 million to renovate Lake Forest Middle School, build an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School, replace Blue Springs Elementary School that was destroyed in last April's tornadoes and purchase land for a new middle school.

According to calculations performed by the Bradley County mayor's office, expected wheel tax revenues will enable to county to fund $21 million for county school projects. However, the purchase of land for a new middle school will not be addressed with the money.

Cleveland City Schools will receive $11 million if the wheel tax referendum passes and county schools receive full funding. According to an agreement between the two school systems, city schools receive $1 for every $2 the county raises for county schools.

The city school system proposes to use the funds to build a new elementary school in the Hardwick Farms area, near North Lee Highway, according to previous statements made by Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools.

Both school systems plan to address parent and community groups regarding the capital projects to be funded with wheel tax dollars, said Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools.

"We are going to give it our best shot," said Charlie Rose, chairman of the Bradley County school board.

Commissioners also addressed concerns over who and how to exempt some low-income elderly from the proposed wheel tax.

Using criteria taken from Knox County wheel tax exemptions as examples, commissioners said they would like to reimburse vehicle owners age 65 years and older with annual incomes of $14,100 or less.

Qualifying individuals would need to present documentation at the Bradley County Commission's office in the courthouse.

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