Slightly more than 75 percent of voters cast ballots against implementing the tax, with 24.36 percent voting for the wheel tax.
“I was very disappointed that the wheel tax did not pass. I still believe we needed the capital outlay funding for our schools,” Bradley County Board of Education chairman Charlie Rose said. “I regret personally that those who supported the wheel tax, including myself, were not able to make the cause persuasive enough to encourage voters to vote for the wheel tax.”
Rose emphasized the vote against the wheel tax “was not a vote against the children of Bradley County. The needs still exist and we will need to work to meet the needs,” Rose said.
Cleveland Board of Education chair Tom Cloud said he hoped the school board would be able to find another way to fund the elementary school. However, he said he did not know what that might be.
“We’ll try to find a solution in another direction,” Cloud said. “I’m disappointed, but not totally surprised.”
The wheel tax was proposed as a way to pay for creating the revenue stream needed to allow the county to borrow $12,160,000 for a new academic building at Lake Forest Middle School, $2 million for an eight-classroom addition at Walker Valley High School and $7,140,000 for a new Blue Springs Elementary School. The elementary school was closed due to damage from the April 2011 tornadoes.
The Bradley County Commission said it does not have a plan for funding the projects, except with the wheel tax.
“The needs that we have presented to the County Commission continue to be great needs,” Bradley County Director of Schools Johnny McDaniel said. “Those needs do not go away with the vote, and a solution needs to be found.”
Because the Commission is required to give a third of any money borrowed for education to the Cleveland City Schools, that school system would receive $10,700,000 for a new elementary school.
While the Commission chose to remain neutral on being for or against the actual tax, individual commissioners have spoken in favor of it.
The Bradley County Finance Committee has worked to find a way to fund the capital projects mentioned for more than a year. The work of the committee continued as possible exceptions for motorcycles and the low-income elderly were discussed. Motorcycles were not exempted and a system for reimbursement for the low-income elderly was decided in case the wheel tax passed.
“The County Commission wanted to give the voters the opportunity to look at a source of revenue (for funding these projects) — they obviously thought this wasn’t it,” finance committee chair Connie Wilson said.
She said the needs still remain.
Commission Chairman Louie Alford agreed, but said the referendum had served its purpose in letting the people decide.
“The people have spoken and they are not willing to pay a wheel tax at this time,” Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said.
Davis said he hopes the school board will reconsider the needs and develop a new plan for meeting them.
The school board has applied for a federal hazard mitigation grant toward the completion of the expansion at Walker Valley High School. When the funds would become available to the school system is unknown.