By ZOË WATKINS
A proposal to implement a wheel tax while reducing the property tax rate was presented by Commissioners Drew Hooker and Adam Thomas at last Tuesday’s Financial Management Committee.
No action was taken on the proposal; Hooker explained he merely wanted to present the idea before the committee.
“What I would like to do is put this on record and let it sit for 30 days to give the public time to be able to discuss and reach out to us as commissioners,” Hooker explained.
After having talked with some residents in the county, he said the reason this proposal is being brought up now is to address a couple needs: one, being school building and maintenance, and two, bolstering volunteer fire departments.
“We are continuing to grow. We are continuing to add students to the community, and we always have to come back and try to find money and where we usually find that is on the property tax,” said Hooker.
Also, “Volunteer fire services across the country are losing volunteers at a high rate of speed…I’ve spoken with many, many of the fire chiefs in this community and we’re seeing that several of them are struggling to, number one, do fundraising, the second thing is being able to recruit volunteers.”
The property tax rate would be reduced by 19 cents, according to Hooker. This would save property owners on average of $110 to $400 a year, he said during the meeting, saying he spoke with county trustee Tonya Davis.
The fee breakdown would be $48 for the passenger vehicle, $25 for motorcycle plates, $130 for commercial vehicles, and $100 for semi-trailers.
“And then the two main categories that we wanted to make sure we did not impact was our farmers and our disabled veterans, and both of those would be zero,” said Hooker.
Senior citizens who qualify for tax relief would also be exempt from the wheel tax. “We have tried very hard to protect the vulnerable individuals in our county to make sure we did not add an increase burden on them, but they also would reap the benefit from the 19-cent tax reduction,” Hooker said.
With the projected growth of the county in addition to the current 60,000 vehicles in the county, Hooker said these rates would bring in an estimated $3.4 million.
“Seventy-three percent of that would go straight to replacing the property tax,” said Hooker. “Three years in a row the property owners have taken the blunt of the raises and this is trying to be able to help spread out that burden to all citizens that are adults in this county…
“It is not a money-grab. It is not trying to bring in additional money to the county. Not one penny goes into the general budget.”
Instead, $850,000 would go to capital outlay for educational purposes, while $101,000 would go directly to the volunteer fire department. “This is trying to help our schools and help the volunteer fire department,” said Hooker.
But there are a few provisions Hooker said come with the proposed resolution. For one, the wheel tax cannot be raised more than $5 per year. Along with that, the wheel tax rate cannot be changed unless it goes back to referendum.
“This would not be a decision at the county commission level; this would for referendum for the people to decide,” said Hooker.
He added that any change in the percentages that go to the appointed areas would require a two-thirds vote in the commission.
“This is based off the conversations we’ve had throughout the county. But a lot of it was talking with the proposal that Commissioner [Greg] Vick and [John] Boutwell—and I know this doesn’t fit the entire amount, but what we’re trying to do is be fair on both the taxpayer’s side for the property owner and be able to bring in as much revenue as possible for those building projects,” said Hooker.
Highway superintendent Mark Clanton, who sits on the finance committee, raised questions after the presentation about the legality of this proposal and suggested assessing this proposal with CTAS (County Technical Advisory Service).
“I would like to make a motion that this be researched by CTAS with how this procedure should work…I want to make sure that whatever we do whenever it comes back next month that we are all, you included, we’re all legal doing the right thing for the citizens,” said Clanton.