NEWPORT—Members of the Cocke County Finance Committee met Monday evening where they had a lengthy discussion about the possibility of implementing a wheel tax in the county.
Kaley Walker, County Government Consultant with CTAS (Community Technical Advisory Service), was on hand to provide specific information on how a wheel tax could be implemented.
Several options would be on the table if commissioners were to pursue a wheel tax according to Walker.
A simple majority vote could send the option to referendum, or the County Legislative Body could pass a wheel tax with a two-thirds vote at two consecutive meetings.
If that option was used, members of the community could still send the tax to referendum by obtaining the signatures of 10 percent of the registered voters in the last gubernatorial election. That would take around 1,000 signatures according to Walker.
The petition with those signatures would have to be submitted within 30 days of the CLB passing the wheel tax.
“In the last couple of election cycles a wheel tax has been a very popular item,” Walker said.
“Commissions have put options like this to referendum and they don’t pass. They are usually trying to generate revenue by doing this. There are several different ways to do that and they are all painful to someone.”
One concern of several of the commissioners is an increase in the wheel tax rate if and when it is implemented.
County Attorney Brittany Vick said that an increase would be possible by a future CLB, but they would have to follow a similar path relying on majority votes and the possibility of it being sent to referendum.
The commission would be required to set the tax rate, as well as designate which vehicles, if any, would be exempt from the tax and what the funds will be used for like the school system, jail, etc.
Walker said that a wheel tax may not be the best option if thousands of vehicles are exempt from the tax.
She said she would sift through the data with County Clerk Jan Brockwell to see if the tax would be a profitable endeavor.
Forest Clevenger, finance committee chair, said he wants to improve the county without passing the burden on to property owners.
“How are we going to pay for a jail? How are we going to give the school system what they need,” Clevenger asked.
“Are we going to pile it on the backs of the property owners again? If you vote against a wheel tax then you’re giving people the ability to tax property owners higher.
“If we don’t move on this then all we are doing is putting it on the property owners. A wheel tax is the only fair tax.”
Landfill issues discussed
Later in the meeting the issues with the landfill and its closure were discussed by the committee members.
Chairman Clevenger said he spoke with McGill and Associates concerning the delays in the permitting process to open a new section of the landfill.
He said they have been waiting for studies and approvals for several years.
“We have waited two years and two months to get the hydrogeological studies done, but McGill and Associates said they can only do what they are requested to do,” Clevenger said. “The permit application was sent to the mayor in 2014 and it has now taken over five years to get this done. That’s what caused it to shutdown in August of 2018.”
Currently the county is paying close to $20,000 per month to have materials taken to the landfill in Morristown.
Clevenger said that $240,000 has been wasted because a letter wasn’t signed.
Mayor Crystal Ottinger said that McGill and Associates has stumbled along the way in getting the proper approvals for the new section of landfill.
She said that state officials told her the county was too far in the process to change engineering firms.
“McGill was working with TDEC (Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation), but the state keeps wanting additional changes,” Ottinger said.
“They said we were too far into the process and can’t switch from McGill.”
Ottinger noted that the permitting process should be finished by the end of the year. She also said that anyone who has concerns about the landfill can contact her office with their comments.