The Rhea County Commission has considered instituting a wheel tax or raising property taxes over the last several weeks, but the process for instituting a wheel tax and increasing the property tax rate are slightly different.
Per state law, the county commission can pass a property tax increase with a simple majority vote in one meeting. However, the commission must hold a public hearing on the issue prior to the tax increase passing.
The current property tax rate is $2.1966 per $100 of assessed value. Commissioners have discussed a 15-cent property tax increase, and county finance department officials said such an increase would add nearly $2.7 million in revenue per year.
County commissioners have also discussed a wheel tax, but the process for passing a wheel tax differs slightly from that of a property tax increase.
State law stipulates that the county commission must vote on a wheel tax in two consecutive regularly scheduled meetings, meaning the commission cannot hold a special-called meeting to pass a wheel tax. Additionally, two-thirds of the county commissioners — or six out of nine commissioners — must vote in favor of the tax in each meeting.
According to preliminary estimates, a $25 wheel tax would increase annual revenue by $675,000, a $35 tax would increase revenue by $945,000 and a $40 wheel tax would increase revenue by $1 million.
If a wheel tax were to pass in two consecutive regular meetings, citizens of Rhea County can force a vote on the issue by collecting signatures on a petition. That petition, per state law, must have 10 percent of the amount of county voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election in 2018.
According to county election officials, 9,529 people voted in the last governor’s election when Gov. Bill Lee was elected. Officials said that any petition to force a referendum on the wheel tax would need to contain 953 signatures from registered voters, and the signatures must be collected and turned in to the Rhea County Election Commission within 30 days of the second vote on a wheel tax.
Those signatures will also have to match the signature on voter registrations, and addresses will need to match and be up to date as well.
The Rhea County Commission is still in the process of finalizing the 2019-20 budget, and a budget committee workshop is scheduled for today — Wednesday, July 31 — at 3 p.m. in the conference room of the Phil Swafford Building.
The full Rhea County Commission has a special-called meeting set for Thursday, Aug. 1, at 6 p.m., also in the conference room of the Phil Swafford Building. Both meetings are open to the public.