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Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Cocke County Finance Committee talks a wheel tax
Members of the Cocke County Finance Committee met for two hours Monday evening discussing a variety of issues. The primary area of discussion was a possible resolution by the full legislative body(CLB) providing for local residents to vote on a wheel tax. Kaley Walker, an advisor with CTAS(County Technical Assistance Service), talked to the committee about the ways to implement a wheel tax. She said a wheel tax resolution can be passed with a simple majority of the CLB to send it to a referendum or it can be passed by the body by two-thirds vote in two consequative meetings, but residents still have the option to petition for a referendum. Or the body could ask the Tennessee legislature to pass a Private Act implementing a wheel tax. But such a move also would require a two-thirds vote at two consecutive meetings. "But the public still has the right to take it to referendum. To do that they must have a petition that includes at least ten percent of registered voters who voted in the last gubernatorial(governor) election." Walker said about 10,000 voted in the last governor's election so about 1,000 signatures would be required to force a referendum. Opponents to a wheel tax would have thirty days to submit such a petition. "In the last couple of election cycles, a wheel tax has been a very popular item that commissioners have put to a referendum, and they don't pass," Walker said. Cocke County residents have twice defeated a wheel tax referendum. The resolution likely would detail where the collected revenue would go, likely roads, schools and for a jail. In addition, the resolution would set the amount to be collected from which type of vehicle, because some types of vehicles could be exempted. County Attorney Brittany Vick said for the wheel tax to be raised in the future would require a similar process. Finance Chair Forest Clevenger pointed out that a jail and school needs total up to $40 million, and funding such expenditures would mean a major property tax increase without revenues from a wheel tax. "How are we going to pay for it? Are we going to saddle it on the backs of the property owners again? Because if you vote against this wheel tax, all we are doing is putting it on the backs of the property owners if we don't move on this. If you own property you are the one who will pay for it." Clevenger argued that a wheel tax "is the only fair tax." The committee also talked about possibly raising the hotel/motel tax to increase revenue. Members were told that the expansion of the landfill has been delayed because of slow-going in the permitting process. And as a result the county is paying Waste Industries $20,000 monthly to dispose of waste that should be going into the local landfill. They also voted to recommend the rental of space on Main Street between the Hooper and Hurst law firms, at a monthly cost of $400. It is to be used by the Archives Department, in addition to the current location, because it has no room for the storage of additional county documents.

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