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Wheel tax proposal gets mixed reviews in Washington County

Ben Ingram • Jul 15, 2007 at 12:00 AM

My, how things have changed.

In years past, anyone brave enough to bring up the idea of a wheel tax could have had a riot on their hands.

But with Washington County commissioners looking for ways to pay back more than $138 million in bonds earmarked for two new pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade schools, high school renovations, jail additions and a new justice center, the possibility of a wheel tax is greater than it's ever been.

What's surprising, however, is the perception of such a tax nowadays.

"It's the only fair tax," said Nancy Coburn, owner of the Cranberry Thistle in Jonesborough. "I would just like to see (commissioners) spread it out, especially to the people who don't own property. Obviously, I'd like to see them not add anything onto the property tax, but I'm sure they're eventually going to have to raise it."

Just last week during a special called meeting, commissioners voted in favor of having County Attorney John Rambo draft a resolution calling for a $50 wheel tax, which will be voted on later this month.

Former county commissioner Eddie Haren said he's kept up with the tax debate and everything he's heard points toward a wheel tax.

"Most people have told me they'd like everyone to contribute to the system with some kind of a wheel tax," Haren said. "I'd rather have a wheel tax just so you can get the people who rent involved.

"Basically, if they don't do a wheel tax, we'll just be picking it back up on the property tax end."

While Haren said he would prefer commissioners to pay for the entire building program using a $50 wheel tax, he doesn't believe they would institute one under $30.

Lynne Kegley, a Sullivan County resident, said she has also kept up with the issue over the past few months and felt she would be in favor of a wheel tax if implemented in her county.

"We don't have one yet, but I'm sure we'll see one eventually," said Kegley on Friday afternoon. "I'd have no problem paying it. I mean, you've got to have schools and jails, and this would spread it out more evenly.

"I like paved roads too, so it doesn't really matter to me."

Sulphur Springs resident Dean Street said he has too many taxes and one more just wouldn't sit well with him.

"There's going to have to be a stopping point with these taxes," he said.

"I guess if they have to do something a wheel tax would be the best route, but come election time I won't be voting for them."

Some said a wheel tax was just a good idea period.

"More people have cars than own property," said Jonesborough resident Joseph Coburn. "And most families have at least two cars, some more than that."

Though a $50 wheel tax was a bit too much for Coburn, he also mentioned the equal aspect of the tax.

"It's definitely a little fairer to do a wheel tax," he said. "It's also inevitable because everyone is eventually going to have to pay a wheel tax. This region is growing and that's just one of the things that comes with the growth."

"I think if it's a little lower I'd be for it," said Linda McIntosh.

"Being a former substitute teacher, I'm all for education, but I'm not for high taxes, and a $50 wheel tax would hurt a lot of people with low incomes."

Al Craft said he was all for a wheel tax and had discussed his beliefs with a few commissioners already.

"I've talked to (Commissioner) Scott Buckingham and I told him that I owned 30 acres of land and have three cars," said Craft, who lives in the Boones Creek area. "Well, my property tax has gone up 12 percent in the last two years, so yes, I'm all for a wheel tax.

"I also said it would be misleading to tell everyone that a $50 wheel tax would eradicate a property tax increase - that's why they need to publicize this more. They're still going to have to raise property taxes a few cents to cover their budget this year. But I really think they should publicize the issue a bit more before they take a vote."

Others reiterated the theme of being taxed one way or the other.

"They're going to get us (with a tax) no matter what, it's just a way of life," said Alan Mautner who was with his wife Sandra late Friday afternoon.

"What I think people don't comprehend is that renters do pay property taxes, even though it's indirectly.

"Either way, the county's got to pay for the money it's borrowed and if that's what they decide to do to pay it back so be it."

The Mautners moved to Northeast Tennessee a year ago after living in Fort Lauderdale - a change that has been somewhat of a blessing in disguise.

"If you come from there, taxes here are much less, so I'm not complaining," Sandra said.

The Washington County Commission will reconvene on July 23 at 9 a.m. at the Washington County Courthouse where they will take up the $50 wheel tax resolution for consideration.

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