published Friday, December 9th, 2011

Bradley County to review wheel tax for education

By Paul Leach/Correspondent

WHAT'S NEXT


The Bradley County Commission meets at Bradley Central High School at noon Monday.

Poll
Should Bradley County have a wheel tax?

CLEVELAND, Tenn. -- The first draft of a wheel tax intended to fund $38 million in school building and renovation projects will come before the Bradley County Commission on Monday.

The draft resolution proposes to use a referendum vote in the August 2012 general election to decide whether or not the county will adopt a $32 wheel tax, assessed each time a vehicle is registered in the county.

"I'm all about transparency in government," said Commissioner Jeff Yarber, chairman of the county's education committee.

He added that he looked forward to getting the tax proposal in front of the entire commission and the public.

"People need to be educated on the wheel tax," Commissioner Adam Lowe said. "There's already some misconceptions out there."

Wheel tax revenues will be dedicated to educational budget items under the county's debt service, according to the resolution draft.

The wheel tax does not apply to motorcycles and exempts veterans and prisoners of war with 100 percent disability, but commissioners want to add exemptions based on age and income to match the county's property tax freeze program.

While statutory regulations do not support age and income exemptions within the wheel tax resolution, the county could add them through a private act, County Attorney Crystal Freiberg said.

The county's tax freeze program now applies to people 65 or older who do not have an annual income exceeding $29,540.

The Bradley County Education and Finance Committees produced the wheel tax draft resolution as an answer to funding requests for major capital projects by the county school system.

Bradley County Schools needs $25.5 million for a new elementary school, land for a third middle school, and extra facilities and improvements for Lake Forest Middle School and Walker Valley High School, officials said.

Cleveland City Schools -- which receives $1 from every $3 the county raises for county schools, based on student populations -- stands to gain $12 million for a new elementary school if the county school projects receive full funding.

County and city school officials praised the county commission's efforts and said they support the tax initiative.

"It's a fair tax for everyone," said Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools. "It's a bold move by the education committee."

"We've got to show the people why we need it," said Charlie Rose, chairman of Bradley County's school board.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. Email him at paul.leach.press@gmail.com.

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