Voters reject proposed wheel tax

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By Damon Lawrence

Many predicted the wheel tax referendum would fail mightily in Tuesday’s election.

They were proven right by the unofficial returns, which showed 14,813 voted against it compared to just 4,019 for.

“It was a beat down,” Commissioner Junior Hendrickson said.

“That wheel tax had a blowout.”

Nearly 79 percent of the people who voted in the referendum were against the wheel tax.

“I was not surprised by the margin,” Commissioner David Bell said. “I don’t think the people liked the thought of taxing themselves.”

School officials were also among those who weren’t surprised by the outcome.

“It was what I expected,” Roane County Director of Schools Gary Aytes said.

The referendum called for a $50 wheel tax per vehicle.

The proceeds would have helped fund the Roane County Board of Education’s building program.

It was estimated to cost around $68 million when the board made a funding request in May.

“This ought to end it,” Hendrickson said.

“The people have spoken. They’re not willing to fund the building of a new school.”

One of the components of the school board’s plan is a new consolidated high school for students attending Roane County High in Kingston, Harriman High and Rockwood High.

The new school is the most expensive part of the plan, estimated to cost around $61 million, according to the funding request the board made in May.

“I think this is a clear message that we’re going to have to come back to the drawing board and think this through a little bit different,” Bell said.

“Maybe people just want the schools that are there to stay there and just fix them up or build new schools as they need. I don’t know.”

The school board didn’t ask for the referendum to be put on Tuesday’s ballot. It also didn’t do any campaigning for it in the weeks leading up to the election.

Aytes said he spoke with people about the wheel tax and told them to do what was best for their financial situation.

“All the people that I talked to, the question they had was what’s better for my family,” Aytes said. “A 10-cent property tax on $100,000 is $25, and if they have one car that’s $50. If they have two cars that’s $100.”

“All the people that talked to me, what I would tell them was look at your tax assessment,” Aytes added. “Realize there’s $25 for every $100,000 and look at how many vehicles you have and just make the best decisions. Everybody that I talked to was better off with a property tax, so I wasn’t surprised.”

Aytes said he expects the school board to move forward with the building program, despite what happened with the referendum.

“I don’t think it (the referendum) changes it at all,” Aytes said. “I don’t think anyone ever thought the wheel tax would pass. Did you think the wheel tax would pass?”

The board has identified a site on Hwy. 70 across from Roane County Park as the location for the new school.

“We are getting an option on it, but we have not purchased it,”Aytes said.

The Commission could still choose to fund the building program through a property tax rate increase. Eight of the 15 commissioners would have to vote for the increase in order for it to pass.