DANDRIDGE (WATE) – Jefferson County commissioners have voted to raise the current wheel tax, 19-1.
County leaders said in January this was a solution for a major portion of the county’s debt. Part of that debt includes the $53 million set aside to build two new schools and fix the high school’s vocational building after a roof collapse.
This option is on the table because commissioners are trying to fill a roughly $3.5 million shortfall in the 2015-2016 budget. If it passes, drivers won’t be paying more until July 1.
If approved, the wheel tax would jump from $25 to $50.
“This is not a high income county. Jobs are scarce and this is going to hurt the people going to it’s trying to help,” said Deborah Lindsey of White Pine.
The possible hike is estimated to bring in an additional $1 million a year to the county.
“Well, we have two vehicles, so that’s a $100 in addition to our tags. And you know there are some people with more than two vehicles,” said Lindsey.
“Wheel taxes tend to last forever. And this is a short term problem I think and that would be a long term solution,” said Brenda Snow of Dandridge.
Commissioners say if it is passed, someone can turn in a petition over the next few days to go to referendum for a special called election, but there has to be 1,046 signatures.
“I would rather that people would be allowed to vote on it. If somebody brings a petition to me, I will sign the petition,” added Snow.
Any tax increase can be a burden, but some drivers say this option may not be so bad.
“It would be easier to pay a little more on wheel tax because there’s probably more people that own cars than own houses. And it would probably be a little easier to pay. Hope so anyway,” said Larry Thompson of Dandridge.
Jefferson County commissioners say if this wheel tax increase does not pass, they’ll either have to cut the budget or significantly raise property taxes.
If the second reading of the wheel tax passes Thursday, the deadline for a voter-signed petition against the tax would be on April 10. Jefferson County Administrator of Elections Charles Gibson says a special election for that would cost taxpayers around $25,000.
Residents will be able to sign a petition to put the tax to a public vote.