Wheel tax fails, for now   

By Lesley Hughes
star staff

ÊÊ  Carter County Commissioners discussed a wheel tax proposal and a controversial development of government-assisted apartments close to a subdivision during Monday night's County Commission meeting.
  The prospect of a wheel tax had to wait until after 11 p.m. for consideration due to other issues. The Budget Committee moved to pass a $25 wheel tax for the next 20 years and use the profits of the tax for capital projects such as land acquisition for economic development, new school projects, and a long-term jail solution.
  Many commissioners were concerned about the lack of specification as to how much funding each project would receive and the fact that a cap of $25 could be reversed or altered too easily.
  Commissioner Tom "Yogi" Bowers said, "Personally, spreading the tax over every resident, whether privately owned or rented, the wheel tax would be the most fair tax. But 20 years is way too long. Capping it is not really accurate ... or we could come back and raise it to $50. The federal judge is holding a gun to our heads saying we need to build a new jail."
  Bowers disagreed with the tax because the appropriation of it to different capital projects was not specified in the motion. Another commissioner said, "We need something set in concrete saying where it will go."
  HIghway Superintendent Jack Perkins said any wheel tax is meant to go toward the local highway department, and if a wheel tax is placed in Carter County, then the highway department should receive a cut of the money for emergency situations. He said if another flood happens in the county similar to the flood of 1998 in Roan Mountain, which totaled more than $4.9 million in damages, the county could not handle the impact.
  Since the highway department has no extra savings, according to Perkins, hypothetically, the impact to the county would be that the highway department would have to close due to lack of funding. "If I run out of money, I hope it is in November because you'll have no school in the county for November, December, or January."
  Once a vote was taken on the wheel tax, the county recorders asked for a recall because of a discrepancy in the vote count. Officially, the second vote on the $25 wheel tax for 20 years failed. The commission was required to pass it by a two thirds vote, requiring 16 yes votes. The motion failed 11-7-1.
  At the beginning of the meeting, County Mayor Dale Fair read a letter from Chuck Culler that said he is stepping down as county commissioner in the 4th district. He cited personal reasons and said his family will be relocating and he cannot serve as a commissioner any longer. Because of this, the commission was left with only 23 members for Monday's meeting.
  The two thirds majority vote still required 16 votes to pass the wheel tax. Commissioners Lawrence Hodge, Wayne Holtsclaw, Amos Stephens, Jerry Pearman, Phil Nave, Jo Ann Blankenship, Charlie Bayless, Dickie Renfro, and Bill Armstrong voted in favor of the wheel tax. Voting no were commissioners Doug Buckles, Joe Woods, Jim Whaley, Bowers, John Lewis, John D. Snyder, and Richard Tester. Commissioner Al Meehan passed on the vote. Commissioners Jack Buckles, Robert Davis, Terry Montgomery, and Roy Merryman were absent.
  In other business, the commission heard from many concerned property owners about a government-assisted apartment complex that could be moving next door to a subdivision in Colonial Acres. The apartments have stirred up controversy in the city of Elizabethton and the state of Tennessee. Owners of the apartments are attempting to locate inside county limits despite permit denials from the state and the city.
  Residents are trying to find out who the owners of the potential complex are before the owners get approval from the Environmental Protection Agency. The citizens claim the apartments could seriously damage the environment due to runoff, creating a potential flooding hazard.