A community forum is planned for the Cocke County High School on Saturday, March 28 as an effort to inform the public regarding a proposed wheel tax. The meeting will begin at 5 p.m.
The Cocke County Legislative Body spent some time at its Tuesday evening meeting talking about the need for revenue to fund a jail and justice center, school capital projects and road repairs.
Commissioner Forest Clevenger said he plans to meet with a County Technical Assistance Service representative to talk about possible resolutions for the body to consider in the future. Katie Walker previously told commissioners it is difficult to enact a wheel tax through referendum. In fact, the issue was presented to voters twice in the past and was defeated each time.
Clevenger said a $50 tax on cars and $25 tax on motorcycles would generate an estimated $1.6 million annually. But he said under state regulations, handicapped tags would be exempt along with trailers, boats etc. Commercial vehicles also would be exempt because they already pay a higher registration fee.
He pointed out in the future the tax could not be increased by the CLB except with two majority votes and then voters could petition for a referendum on the issue. In addition, the resolution is required to stipulate where the additional revenue would be used.
Clevenger says the current financial situation stems from the fact the county has not in the past funded a “rainy day” account.
“The biggest problem Cocke County has had over the past 40 years is that we only tax the county what is needed from month to month just to pay the bills. We have never put money up for a five-, 10-, 15-year plan. We never taxed a few pennies more to set back for emergencies.”
The commissioner said he is not advocating for a wheel tax “because we are a greedy board wanting to line our pockets with it. We aren’t lining anything, we are trying to build this county up and to change the direction we are headed.”
But Chair Clay Blazer, who has been on the CLB for a number of terms, explained his position.
“We are an impoverished county and if you understand very much about when people are in poverty, it’s hard to think about. It’s not that we haven’t wanted to do the things that are best for our county five or 10 years down the road, it’s just that we can’t afford it.”
Blazer went on to argue the cycle of poverty is almost impossible to break.
“It’s not that people don’t want to work harder, it’s just that there is no way to get out from under that cycle. When you are behind and struggling to make ends meet, the least little thing comes up and it breeds havoc with your finances. And that is what we are doing as a county.”
Sheriff Armando Fontes said his job is to reduce the crime rate, save money any way possible, and to educate the community as to the possibility of federal lawsuits stemming from the jail conditions.
He pointed out people complain but do not attend meetings to become informed on the issues the county is facing.
“People are asking for answers and people want things done, but people are relying on social media which is nothing more than a tool to empower the ignorant that do not understand how things actually work. They run their mouths and say things about stuff that they have no concept of how it works. They belittle and put down community leaders who are trying to do what it is right.”
The sheriff went on to say that, “It takes a community to fix a community.”
“Quit complaining, quit griping, and become a part of the solution. Let’s meet together and share values and ideas. Let’s get advice from the people who are going to meetings constantly. I’ve done my job but if the community won’t listen, it’s time to wipe the dust off your feet and move on.”