published Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Bradley County delays action in tax dispute with Cleveland

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The Bradley County Commission has agreed to postpone a vote on the county's possible withdrawal from joint capital projects with Cleveland.

On Monday, commissioners voted 10-0 to delay voting on a measure stating the county's intent to step back from major funding partnerships with Cleveland "due to a potential loss of sales tax revenues" in an ongoing dispute with the city.

The delay is intended to give the resolution the consideration of the entire commission, said Commissioner Adam Lowe, who made a request to reschedule the vote in two weeks. Commissioners Brian Smith, Connie Wilson, Bill Winters and Chairman Louie Alford were absent from the meeting.

"Even though I'm removing it from the agenda, I did offer my support of the idea that that is our reality," Lowe said.

Up to $2 million in annual sales tax revenue could be at stake, according to previous statements by Alford.

Commissioners Ed Elkins and Lowe both said the resolution is not a political countermeasure, but a reflection of the fact that the county can't afford to lose that much revenue and still contribute to joint ventures with the city.

At last week's Cleveland City Council meeting, Councilman Richard Banks proposed that the city end litigation over a 1967 sales tax revenue-sharing agreement between the city and county governments.

Banks' proposal failed in a 4-3 vote, with Councilmen Dale Hughes and George Poe supporting the measure. Councilmen Bill Estes, Avery Johnson, David May and Charlie McKenzie opposed Banks.

The agreement -- and amendments made to it in 1972 and 1982 -- call for the division of sales tax revenues according to formulas driven by city and county student populations and whether the revenue was generated within or outside the city.

The sales tax agreement and its amendments have been disputed in the wake of a conflict that arose over sales tax initiatives passed by the city and county in 2009.

When looking at the combined legislative representation of the county and city -- seven city councilmen and 14 county commissioners -- the councilmen who want to continue litigation are in the minority, Lowe said.

Seventeen elected officials think it's a bad idea for the city, said Lowe, who pointed out that six county commissioners also represent city residents.

"To the members of the City Council who stood up and tried to be voices of reason, I say thank you," Commissioner Jeff Yarber said. "To those others, I say shame on you."

While no commissioners have stated any specific projects that would lose county funding, Banks told the city council a new industrial park and improvements to Interstate 75 exit 20 could suffer, as might the public library and the Museum Center at Five Points.

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

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