Wheel tax proposed to reduce Blount County Schools budget defici

Wheel tax proposed to reduce Blount County Schools budget deficit

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In order to find alternative sources of funding for the schools, Blount County Commissioner Holden Lail is proposing a wheel tax. In order to find alternative sources of funding for the schools, Blount County Commissioner Holden Lail is proposing a wheel tax.
"I think it is classified as a financial crisis. That's the way we see it," said Director of Schools Dr. Rob Britt. "I think it is classified as a financial crisis. That's the way we see it," said Director of Schools Dr. Rob Britt.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

MARYVILLE (WATE) - A Blount County Commissioner is proposing a tax increase to help make up a shortfall in the school system's budget.

School officials have been in the red for the past several years and their $86.7 million budget proposal for next year includes a lot of tough cuts.

The school system is facing a $6.8 million budget deficit; Blount County Director of Schools Dr. Rob Britt says if something isn't done, they are facing deep cuts.

"I think it is classified as a financial crisis. That's the way we see it," said Britt.  

Britt says that for the last few years they have balanced the budget through one-time federal stimulus dollars and reserve funds -- something they can't do anymore.

Britt says increased costs and less revenue from the state and local governments have significantly contributed to the deficit.

Britt can't hire new teachers and has to cut funding for technology upgrades and new textbooks. Thirty employees would be laid off if the budget shortfall is not fixed.

"We wouldn't be just cutting things we need that we're putting into the budget next year, we'd be cutting critical services we need right now, today," Britt said. 

In order to find alternative sources of funding for the schools, Blount County Commissioner Holden Lail is proposing a wheel tax.

The measure would apply to estimated 164,000 vehicles registered in the county.

The tax would be $35 for each motor-driven vehicle and $17.50 for motorcycles owned by a Blount County resident.

"This is unique that we're able to put this $7 million question in the hands of the voters," said Holden Lail, Blount County Commissioner.

In 2012, Blount County voters rejected a proposed half-cent sales tax increase, half of the tax collections would have gone to the schools.

"If the money goes to the Blount County Schools and the school system, rather than a tax increase, I would support that," said Alcoa resident Sheron McGill.

6 News spoke to some residents who support a wheel tax if the measure were to appear on the ballot.  

"I would go with it, because when I was going through school, we needed a lot of new textbooks, new textbooks, new desks," said Maryville resident Clarence Colwart.

Officials kicked around the idea of proposing a 38.5 cent property tax increase to cover the shortfall. Commissioner Lail said that would have been tough for voters to support. 

"Most folks are not willing to go that route on a property tax, and that is a tremendous amount of increase," Lail said.

Lail will present the wheel tax proposal during commission's agenda committee meeting on April 9.

The resolution would need full commission approval at its April 18 meeting.  

If the resolution is passed, there would be a special election on June 11, where voters would have the final say.

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