COCKE COUNTY—Budget Committee members met Monday afternoon to continue their discussions on funding options for a county jail/justice center.

The committee hopes to make a move in the near future before an entirely new County Legislative Body (CLB) may be elected in 2022.

With options limited to a wheel tax, property tax increase or budget cuts, the committee feels as if the public should have a say in what measures are taken.

Committee member and CLB chair Clay Blazer said the work to put a wheel tax on the May ballot needs to be done in the coming months.

“It’s September now and by this time next year we may have 14 new CLB members. Anything we do now can be undone so that’s something we need to consider,” Blazer said.

“There is no guarantee of a continuum so the work needs to be done now. I don’t want to see a wheel tax, but if we are considering it then it should be on the ballot for all citizens to decide.”

The construction costs for the new facility are estimated at $35,996,405. The total bond would be for $40 million to cover all equipment and miscellaneous items needed to move Circuit and Sessions Courts into the new center.

The county would be responsible for a $2.5 million annual payment on the new facility.

A wheel tax of various amounts could be implemented from $20 to $50. That would bring in an estimated $675,868 at the $20 amount, all the way up to $1,689,670 at the $50 amount.

Committee member and commissioner Norman Smith said it would take more than a wheel tax to make the annual payments.

“A wheel tax of $100 still won’t cover $2.5 million per year,” Smith said. “We can’t tell people if they vote for a wheel tax we won’t raise their property taxes when it looks like it will take both to cover that amount.”

Smith did not say that he supported either measure, but agreed strongly with Blazer saying the wheel tax needs to be an option placed on May’s ballot.

The committee will work on the wording that will appear on the ballot over the coming months. It will stress that all funds collected through a wheel tax will be used for the construction of a new jail/justice center.

They hope to better inform the public on the issues the current county jail faces and the need for a new center.

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