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Washington grappling with bond repayment

BEN INGRAM • Mar 26, 2007 at 12:45 PM

Despite rescinding a vote earlier this year that would have placed a $25 wheel tax referendum on the April city election ballot, Washington County commissioners have yet to make a decision on how to pay back more than $135 million in bonds used to fund the county's school building and jail expansion/ justice center projects.

Some commissioners anticipate that an answer on funding has to come soon - possibly tonight at their monthly meeting.

"I think that we'll probably vote on something," said Commissioner Frank Bolus. "We've already started working on next year's budget, so we've got to address something soon."

Commissioners will likely look at adding 18 cents onto the property tax or implementing a $25 wheel tax themselves, which would be accompanied by an additional 8 cents on the property tax.

"If we vote on a wheel tax, it has to be voted on twice and pass by two-thirds of the commission each time," Bolus said.

In February, commissioners unanimously rescinded an earlier vote on a wheel tax referendum after they found out that it would cost the county at least $100,000 to place the referendum on the ballot. Others felt a referendum wouldn't include enough wording to explain the commission's decision.

"By doing a referendum ... it would not be getting the point (across) we thought it would," said County Mayor George Jaynes, indicating that the referendum would not include wording saying that an additional 8 cents on the property tax would be needed to retire all of the county's bonds.

Bolus even proposed using a portion of the county's sales tax to pay back bonds, but to no avail.

"It's too late probably to think about a sales tax because it would also have to go on a referendum. ... I don't think commissioners want to do that," he said.

"Unless the commission can get the Johnson City Commission to put one on a referendum ... I really don't know. In my opinion, I thought a sales tax would be better because I can regulate what I spend."

In other business, the county will likely adopt a resolution on the Johnson City Development Authority's tax increment financing program. Last month, commissioners approved the concept of the program by a vote of 18-5.

County Attorney John Rambo recommended that commissioners approve the program in concept so that he could work out some amendments and come back with a resolution this month.

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