After multiple meetings on the subject of including a wheel tax referendum on the August election ballot, the Coffee County Budget and Finance Committee voted Thursday to recommend an enabling resolution to be adopted by the full commission on May 13.
The committee’s vote also included a recommended amount of $50 for the proposed wheel tax, which voters would have the opportunity to approve or disapprove on the August ballot of the County General Election.
Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Rush Bricken said his main concern was whether the voters correctly understood the need for the wheel tax, as well as how it would be applied.
“I’ve heard some people say, ‘if it’s $50 per wheel, then that’s $200 for my car,’” Bricken said.
“We need them to understand that it would be $50 total, per car, per year, and that motorcycles are half that amount, by statute.”
Bricken added that the tax would be paid along with annual vehicle registrations and collected by the county clerk’s office.
The committee had also considered an amount of $25 for the tax, but after a brief survey of those present and a candid discussion about the county’s needs, the committee agreed that $50 was more appropriate, considering the fact that even at the $50 level, it would still not generate enough additional revenues to cover the increased operating expenses for the new jail and middle school, which are expected to be over $3 million combined.
Failure of wheel tax
referendum could lead to property tax increase
If the referendum fails, the committee agreed they would have no choice but to increase property taxes, possibly by as much as another 30 to 40 cents, and that even if the referendum passes, a small increase to property taxes would probably still be required.
“A $25 wheel tax equates to about 13 cents on property taxes, and a $50 wheel tax equates to about twice that amount,” Bricken said, “but even if the referendum passes at the $50 level, we may still have to increase property taxes by four or five cents, unless we can find the funds elsewhere.”
Commissioner Bobby Bryan told The News recently that he would press for major cuts in spending, rather than allow property taxes to be increased any further at this time.
“Our tax base is heavily dependent on property tax, so unless we pass a wheel tax or something else to expand the tax base, we would have to increase property taxes even more, unless we can find other things to cut.”
Bryan added that he would not want to hurt people by taking away services, but with no other revenue sources besides property tax to fund county operations, he saw no other choice, since sales taxes are already allocated for specific purposes.
Several commissioners, including Bricken, have also expressed concern that Coffee County already has among the highest property tax rates in the state, next to Shelby County, and that further property tax increases could deter new businesses from locating here.
“Commercial businesses are assessed at 40 percent on their property tax, as opposed to the residential rate of 25 percent, and that can really create a hurdle for new businesses coming in,” Bricken said, adding that the business owner would likely pay both residential and commercial property taxes if they located here.
Others present mentioned the fact that Cannon and Warren counties both have a wheel tax.
“A wheel tax would diversify the tax base somewhat,” Bricken told The News on Wednesday, “and it seems to be fairly equitable, since almost everyone owns a car.”
He added that wealthier constituents often own several cars, sometimes including antiques and collectibles, and would thus have to pay more to keep them all registered.
Bryan also added that Coffee County’s property tax rates should not be compared directly with Shelby and other counties that do charge a wheel tax.
“It’s not really a fair comparison if you compare Coffee County’s property tax rates to other counties that have wheel taxes and other revenue sources that we don’t have,” he said.
The full commission meets at 6 p.m. Tuesday, May 13.
Marian Galbraith can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.