Failed wheel tax takes year’s No. 2 spot
by JOYANNA WEBER, Banner Staff Writer
Dec 31, 2012 | 802 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When Bradley County voters overwhelmingly gave a collective “thumbs down” in August to the implementation of a proposed wheel tax, it effectively brought an end to the long-discussed and hotly debated levy.

Failure of the wheel tax resolution was deemed by Cleveland Daily Banner editors and staff writers to be the No. 2 local story among the Top 10 for 2012.

Approximately 75 percent of the voting public cast a ballot against the proposed tax increase.

The tax had been debated as a way to finance borrowing money needed for capital projects initially requested by Bradley County Schools in 2011. These capital projects included an academic building at Lake Forest Middle School to alleviate water-related issues, an expansion at Walker Valley High School and a new Blue Springs Elementary School.

Cleveland City Schools would have also received funding for a new elementary school.

Bradley County commissioners were not in favor of increasing property taxes to cover the financing needed for the projects. The county could not borrow the money for the projects without creating more revenue.

The Commission sought to remain neutral on the issue in order to give voters a chance to decide for themselves. Leading up to the vote, details of the levy and who could be exempt continued to draw discussion from the public and also from local government leaders.

The Commission told members of the Bradley County Board of Education and Bradley County Schools Director Johnny McDaniel that it would be up to them to convince the voting public of the need for the projects. Many schools sought voter support through use of school signs.

Both school systems voiced support for the tax at their regular meetings.

In the end, school board members were not surprised that the tax was rejected by Bradley County voters.

An additional $16 fee would have been added to registration for motorcycles. County commissioners had discussed exempting motorcycles, but eventually the fee was included on the ballot. Vehicle exemptions mandated by state law were kept intact, including motor-driven bicycles and scooters, farm tractors and self-propelled farm machines not intended for highway use. Individuals who were former prisoners of war or 100 percent service-related disabled veterans would have been exempt.

Commissioners explored the possibility of granting exemptions to low-income elderly residents, but ran into stumbling blocks.

Since car registration notifications are set by the state and not by local government, residents would have received a bill whether they were exempt or not. Reimbursing those who qualified was also discussed. The Commission discussed possibly adapting the guidelines used for the county’s property tax freeze program.

Many of the details about the proposed wheel tax were negotiated by the finance and education committees.

Opinions ran high in the days leading up to the vote with multiple “Letters to the Editor” being submitted to the Cleveland Daily Banner, and public forums addressing both sides of the debate also were held.

The Commission could have passed the wheel tax with 10 votes by its members on two separate votes in favor of the tax. However, a petition signed by 10 percent of the voting public would override the Commission’s actions.