Wheel tax no go

The Claiborne Commission decided Monday evening to keep the revenues coming in from the $25 County Road Department wheel tax. Resolution 2019-088 was handily knocked to the ground with a vote of 13 against and 7 in favor of passage. One commissioner, Stacey Crawford, was absent during the meeting.

One of two wheel taxes currently being paid by vehicle owners would have been terminated on Dec. 31, if the resolution had been adopted on two readings. (The other tax is going toward the eventual payoff of a note taken on the Claiborne Justice Center.)

Those voting for the resolution were commissioners Whitt Shuford, Charlton Vass, Steve Brogan, Nathan Epperson, Zachary Mullins, Anthony Rowe and Steve Murphy.

Commissioners voting against the resolution were Brent Clark, Juanita Honeycutt, Kim Large, Mike Campbell, Nicholas Epperson, Mitchell Cosby, Steve Mason, Rosemary Barnett, Carolyn Brooks, Sherry McCreary, Shawn Peters, David Mundy and James Hatmaker.

Commissioner Brogan said he received daily complaints about the lack of road repairs being done in his district.

“People don’t care to pay this wheel tax if it’s being used right. People know good management and they know bad management. You go by the road department any time of the (work) day, and you look at all that new equipment sitting in the yard.

“Our county roads are in worse shape than they’ve ever been. The tar and chipping is not lasting,” said Brogan, adding that the chip and shot method would be a better fit.

Mayor Joe Brooks addressed the commission. Brooks touched on the oral promise made at the time the original wheel tax resolution was adopted in 2015. He said the commissioners agreed to do away with the wheel tax, once a $5 million loan taken by a previous road superintendent was paid.

Brooks suggested a more favorable light would be placed on the wheel tax if it was tied to a capital project, which would have a “finite” ending date.

“Those get done…. Everybody would see something done. Right now, the perception out there is that we’re going to continue to throw the $700,000 into a pot,” said Brooks.

He asked that the commission begin looking for a better alternative to the current tar/chip used on county roads.

“Ron Pittman has said it before at town hall meetings, at budget meetings – tar and chip is environmentally friendly. It is water soluble. It does not last long. You tar and chip Old Cave Springs Road this year. It goes through the winter and you have to tar and chip it next year. We’re wasting good money on bad effort. And, that’s what the citizens of Claiborne County are seeing. And, they want it to stop,” said Brooks.

One resident discussed his perspective on the use of tar/chip.

“When we moved (here), that road hadn’t been resurfaced in probably 30 years. It was really bad. It was resurfaced last year, and it’s a great road, now. I’ve also observed roads around the county that have been paved or tar and chipped. I see progress.

“When I first heard about the wheel tax, I was not too happy about it. But, I immediately saw results in mine and other areas, which made it acceptable, to me,” said the resident.

He added that repairing and maintaining roads is an “ongoing thing” and that it takes time.

Commissioner Mullins said he had one problem with the tar/chip method. He said it had been used on Lower Caney Valley Road the Monday following Thanksgiving 2018.

“It was spitting snow, shooting tar, and we all know that isn’t going to hold. What I run into all across my district is –what people are saying – they’d rather see one mile done right than five miles done wrong,” said Mullins.

Commissioner Cosby said he was satisfied with the progress Pittman is making in the 5th district.

“If we write this (the wheel tax) off, do we have any kind of funding mechanism in place to replace it? No. That cuts our roadwork down to nothing, pretty much,” said Cosby.

Commissioner Shuford addressed the portion of the original resolution from 2015 that provides the county with a means to fine those who live in Claiborne but who register their vehicles in another county.

“The one concern I’ve been hearing most is ‘why am I paying it when John Doe is going out here and buying a car in Knoxville and getting their tags in Knoxville and not paying the wheel tax,’” said Shuford.

He suggested that an amendment be added to the original resolution asking that other cities and counties enforce the wheel tax and/or its fines for those “skirting” the tax.

Road superintendent Ronnie Pittman spent a good chunk of time reviewing the progress that has been made on county road repairs and maintenance.

Pittman pointed out there has been no increase in state funding since 1987. He reminded those present that recent increases in the gasoline tax coming to the county will not be fully realized until the end of budget year 2020.

“When we came in here in 2012, you had a $550,000 a year note on a $2 million a year budget,” said Pittman.

He said he found “devastation” along the 833,000 miles of roadway inside the county.

“We’re not in here to debate about 7 or 8 cents a day, $2.08 a month and $25 a year (the cost per individual for the wheel tax) to keep your vehicles out of the garage. We’ve already done that (debating the issue),” said Pittman.

He detailed some of the work that has been done, under his leadership. To this point, 13 state-aided bridges have been installed, at a cost of $2.4 million.

Over 61 miles of county roadways have been paved, at a cost of $4.7 million. Some 92 miles of roadway have been repaired at a cost of $1.7 million.

Just these numbers total over $8.936 million that were spent, not counting the costs of ditch work and roadside mowing, he said.

Pittman said he had a working list of planned road repairs, paving and maintenance work that will begin in the spring.

“We’ve set aside $688,950 to be used for paving. Right now, there are two miles of Chumley Road scheduled to be paved with state-aid, with (plans) to go the third mile – all the way to Goins Road – with the wheel tax money, assuming it’s still in place,” said Pittman.

He warned the commissioners that losing the revenues from the wheel tax would cause roadwork to “go backwards.”

During the discussion, commissioner Clark suggested that the budget committee seek a good alternative to the wheel tax by finding funds equal to what is currently being raised.