published Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Sequatchie County voters turn down wheel tax

Nearly 75 percent of 1, 388 Sequatchie County, Tenn., voters said no Tuesday to a $20-per-vehicle, per-year wheel tax.

"They spoke loud and clear last night," Sequatchie County Executive Keith Cartwright said Wednesday.

Cartwright supported the wheel tax, expecting that the federal Affordable Care Act will cost Sequatchie County about $300,000 to insure about 70 employees.

He said Wednesday that, because the law's penalties for employers who don't offer basic health insurance are being pushed back to 2015, the county can afford not to raise taxes.

He said he isn't upset that the referendum failed.

"It was all good," Cartwright said. "The people still run things here."

The referendum came about at least in part because of a petition that circulated after the County Commission approved the wheel tax.

County resident Chester Shell helped gather 1,500 signatures on a petition requesting taxpayers get a chance to vote directly on the measure.

He said he was upset that commissioners "tried to force a wheel tax on the people," but he is happy after Tuesday's landslide victory.

"Basically, the people in Sequatchie County said they don't want a wheel tax," he said Wednesday.

Shell said the county needs to cut spending and be financially accountable to the taxpayers, and Tuesday's vote was a victory for voters' rights.

When the County Commission voted on the wheel tax proposal in May, commission Chairman Tommy Johnson was the only one of 14 to vote no.

"I knew with some strategic cuts, we really didn't need it," he said Wednesday.

Johnson said he believes a wheel tax is a burden on the wrong people.

He said that, because of its proximity to Hamilton County and its many businesses, Sequatchie County land is a popular buy with nonresidents, and upwards of 40 percent of the county's land is owned by noncounty residents.

"Land in our county has been a good buy for many years," he said.

Additionally, Sequatchie County averages more than two cars per household, he said. Johnson said a wheel tax is tougher on in-county residents, while a property tax would place the burden on outside landowners.

Cartwright said there will be no property tax hike.

Cartwright and Johnson said that, rather than raise taxes this budget year, the county made deep cuts to its budget, specifically to the sheriff's department, and looks to be in better shape than years past because of increases in sales tax revenue. The county has not had to lay off any employees.

"We'll just stick with what we've got," Cartwright said Wednesday.

Election results are unofficial until certified by the state election commission.

Contact staff writer Alex Green at agreen@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6731.

about Alex Green...

Alex Green joined the Times Free Press staff full-time in January 2014 after completing the paper's six-month, general assignment reporter internship. Alex grew up in Dayton, Tenn., which is also where he studied journalism at Bryan College. He graduated from Rhea County High School in 2008. During college, Alex covered the city of Graysville and the town of Spring City for The Herald-News. As editor-in-chief of Bryan College's student news group, Triangle, Alex reported on ...

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