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Board backs wheel tax vote

The Unicoi County Commission approved placing a wheel tax referendum on the November ballot during a brief special called meeting on Monday night, but there is a question whether the $25 amount was properly included in the motion.
During the meeting, County Attorney Doug Shults said he included an amount previously discussed in finance committee meetings in the wheel tax referendum given to the commissioners. However, after the meeting was adjourned, County Clerk Mitzi Bowen said the commission acted through improper procedure.
The commission’s agenda item did not include a dollar amount, and the motion was made by Commissioner Dwight Bennett and seconded by Commissioner Loren Thomas before an amount was discussed.
“When the motion was read, there was no money amount in the motion,” Bowen said. “That’s the way the motion was read and that’s the way they seconded and voted on it.”
Bowen said for the $25 to be included in the referendum for the November ballot, the commission would have needed to amend the motion to include the amount.
“They should have turned around and amended the motion and put the $25 in there,” Bowen said. “So when we do the minutes, the $25 is not going to be there.” Bowen said the commission would have also needed a new first and second motion before voting.
During the meeting, Chairperson Sue Jean Wilson did mention to include the $25.
Interviewed later Monday night, Wilson said the commission won’t know the answer to the situation until the tape is listened to and the minutes are typed out.
“I remember mentioning that the motion would include the $25, but I don’t know if by Robert’s Rules if that’s acceptable or not,” Wilson said. “Our County Mayor [Greg] Lynch seemed to think what was done was sufficient, but we will have to just wait until [Bowen] listens to the tape then check it with the county attorney.”
Wilson said if the motion is found to be invalid, then the commission will attempt to meet again to include the $25 in the referendum scheduled to appear on the November ballot. Wilson was uncertain if the upcoming regularly scheduled meeting on Sept. 24 would suffice to reconsider the agenda item.
The wheel tax referendum was passed by a 5-2 vote, with Commissioners Gene Wilson and Kenneth Garland in opposition, and Commissioners Bill Hensley and Doug Bowman absent.
Although no citizens in attendance offered views on the wheel tax referendum, Gene Wilson began the discussion by stating he had received many calls in opposition of the wheel tax, while Sue Jean Wilson said she had received calls for both sides of the issue.
Bennett said he feels it is the commission’s obligation to put it on the ballot. “It’s not a matter of what our opinion is, it’s what the public wants,” Bennett said.
Thomas said during the meeting that he projected revenues from the wheel tax set at $25 per vehicle to be around $450,000, which would offset the amount of property tax increases for the next fiscal year by about 15 cents. Thomas said previously that this figure reflects an amount based on 90 percent of about 20,000 registered vehicles.
However, Bowen said after the meeting that she discovered there are approximately 18,000 vehicles that would fall under the tax.
“I’ve done a lot of research and a wheel tax is not for everybody,” Thomas said. “There are people it would cost more money, but overall it helps the property owners and gives them a little bit of a break.”
Thomas said that the wheel tax would benefit those with about $150,000 worth of property, but it may cost more for those who own less.
Thomas said in a previous finance meeting that the “county is half government-owned” and a wheel tax would give some relief to property owners. “I think it is a more fair way of taxing more people for the services that everybody uses rather than making just the property owners pay for all the services that our county has,” Thomas said on Monday.
Bowen, who would handle the administration of a wheel tax through her office, said it was her opinion that the wheel tax is double taxation because citizens are still going to pay property taxes and could be subjected to property tax increases for the coming year.
“I feel, well I don’t feel, I know that a wheel tax is not a fair tax,” she said. “It’s double taxation on the citizens.”