NEWPORT—The Cocke County Finance Committee covered several important topics at their meeting Monday night.
One of the topics discussed was the possibility of a wheel tax for the county.
Chairman Forest Clevenger said it is up to the current County Legislative Body to find a funding mechanism for school improvements and a new county jail/justice center.
“We dropped the ball this last budget cycle,” Clevenger said. “Over 60 counties in the state have a wheel tax. I called some of those counties and they didn’t have an influx of people losing their homes or going hungry because of a wheel tax.
“I know that we will lose businesses if property tax rates go higher. We have to find the mechanism to fund these things.”
County Mayor Crystal Ottinger said that a resolution must be submitted between mid September and Dec. 19 if a wheel tax option is to appear on the March 2020 ballot.
Clevenger went on to say that he wants the citizens of the county to decide if a wheel tax will be enacted.
“I want this to go to the people. That’s the only way I’m comfortable with it. People need to be educated on what this can do for the county.”
Clevenger suggested holding a town hall for citizens to express their thoughts on a wheel tax, and hear the CLB’s plans for the funds that are garnered from the tax.
Mayor Ottinger noted that the verbiage of a resolution must match what appears on the ballot. She also said it must be decided whether there will be a tax on motorcycles, campers and trailers.
Commissioner Clay Blazer asked County Attorney Brittany Vick to look at other counties resolutions for a wheel tax. He said they could be used as a basis for Cocke County’s.
He asked for the resolutions to be reviewed at the September CLB meeting.
Blazer said one of the issues with the wheel tax is how the money will be spent or designated for specific projects.
“Part of this money should go to the roads,” Blazer said. “They are crumbling, and that is the logical place for the money to go. I know the schools and jail are in need, but roads need to be considered.”
Commissioner Gayla Blazer asked if a cap could be placed on the amount of a wheel tax.
She said that taxes like a wheel tax seem to always go up and never come back down.
Vick and others said that it wouldn’t be possible to limit the amount of the tax.
Vick said that another CLB could come in and form a resolution that makes the previous null and void.
There are nearly 42,000 registered vehicles in Cocke County according to Chairman Clevenger. He said that a $30 to $40 wheel tax could fund several projects.
He said that he doesn’t support taxes of any kind, but doesn’t know of another way to provide funds to fix the county’s issues.
“I don’t want a property tax increase, and I don’t want a wheel tax,” Clevenger said.
“But most of all I don’t want this county to fail.”