UNICOI COUNTY, Tenn. - The issue of wheel tax versus property tax is being taken to the voters.
Like many counties in northeast Tennessee, money was tight in Unicoi County this year.
To make up for the budget shortfall, the county is considering adding a wheel tax. "I think it's a more fair way to tax everyone for all the services everybody uses," said one commissioner at the special called meeting on Monday night.
County mayor Greg Lynch said a tax increase is unavoidable. The wheel tax could help reduce the property tax, which is estimated to increase more than 20 cents. "By the time the wheel tax will be implemented, that will probably take the pressure off of the property tax. It's one of the other basically," Lynch said.
The county commissioners voted five to two in favor of adding the $25 wheel tax referendum to the November ballot. "They're just putting it to the public directly. If the public opts out of it, then we'll stay with the property tax increases," said Lynch.
With about 18,000 vehicles registered in the county, the wheel tax could bring in an estimated $450,000 per year. Lynch said with the wheel tax the county could eventually decrease the property tax. "[It would] give the people the option to decide how they want to be taxed," he explained.
But many commissioners said they're in favor of letting the public decide, perhaps not necessarily in favor of the tax. "This is not a matter of our opinions; it's what the public wants," said one county commissioner.
Commissioner Gene Wilson was one of two people who voted against the wheel tax. He said he voted no because he got so many calls from people against the issue. "People just don't want another tax. I can't blame them," he said. "It'll be voted down, that's my opinion. It'll be voted down. We'll just have to wait until November to see."
This isn't the first time Unicoi County has thrown around the idea of the wheel tax. According to the county mayor, the issue has been brought up and defeated about three times.