Hamilton County Commission to consider $60 'wheel' tax to benefit public schools

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A resolution to put a $60 annual vehicle or "wheel" tax on the next county ballot to benefit public schools will come before the Hamilton County Commission on Wednesday.

The resolution, if passed, would put a referendum to establish a wheel tax on the ballot during the March 3, 2020, primary election.

The tax would apply to motor vehicles, motorcycles and motor-operated bikes and scooters that are regularly used for transportation on public roads. It would be paid to the county clerk's office annually.

While no sponsor was listed on the resolution draft obtained by the Times Free Press and multiple commissioners mentioned wheel taxes over the summer as the body grappled with, and ultimately shot down, a property tax rate increase to benefit public schools, District 9 Commissioner Chester Bankston said late Tuesday that District 6 Commissioner David Sharpe had introduced the resolution.

Sharpe did not respond to multiple phone and text requests to comment Tuesday.

The draft specifies the revenue would be used for salary increases in Hamilton County's education department.

The resolution is on the agenda for this week's planning meeting, during which drafted resolutions will be discussed and potentially put on the agenda for a vote at next week's business meeting. If it is approved by the commission during a business meeting, it will then go to the citizens for approval on March 3, as the draft stands.

With the funding of public schools and increase of any tax among the most divisive topics considered by the panel, commissioners on Tuesday seemed torn about the resolution.

"I'm real sensitive to teachers and what their needs are and what they need to get the job done. ... Teachers are going above and beyond and we need to do what we can to keep them and keep them on track to do the job they're doing," District 4 Commissioner Warren Mackey, an outspoken supporter of increasing teacher pay, said. "Over the years, commissioners have continued to kick the can down the road, and that's why I didn't vote for the revised [2020] budget without the tax for schools. I don't want to be party to a non-progressive, kick-the-can-down-the-road commission. ... I support it without a doubt."

Other commissioners fear current school funds are not being optimized and should not result in further costs to taxpayers.

"I'd be against [the tax]. We already have property tax to go toward that and, as you know, I don't think the school board spends their money how they should already," said District 8 Commissioner Tim Boyd, a regular critic of Hamilton County school board and tax increases.

While some commissioners have stark opinions on the matter, others are looking at more nuanced details of the newly hatched resolution draft.

"I've always said that I support a wheel tax over a property tax so that you get everyone," Bankston said. "But in reading this resolution, I just don't know about a $60 wheel tax."

Contact Sarah Grace Taylor at 423-757-6416 or at staylor@timesfreepress.com. Follow her on Twitter at @_sarahgtaylor.