County Commission to address proposed wheel tax changes - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

County Commission to address proposed wheel tax changes

(WMC-TV) - The Shelby County Commission will vote this week on a change to how wheel tax money is spent.

The discussion is expected to serve as a springboard for the longtime argument of doing away with the wheel tax altogether.

"I don't think people have ever really understood what this wheel tax has been about," said government relations expert Jackson Baker.

Baker said the wheel tax is an intrinsically hot button issue.

"The public just sees it as a tax, number one," he said. "And they're annoyed by the idea of any tax."

If you own a vehicle in Shelby County, you pay an annual $50 wheel tax for the privilege to drive on streets, roads and highways. The roughly $30 million collected is not spent on roads.

In 1998, commissioners first imposed a $25 wheel tax to pay for "county bond indebtedness." Baker said it was understood that money would be used for school construction.

In 2001, the commission doubled the tax. Then, they voted to use half the money for "school bond indebtedness" and the other half for operations.

For the first time in four years, the Shelby County Commission is proposing a change to how wheel tax dollars are spent. Wednesday, they will vote to use up to 100 percent of the wheel tax to go to "school operating costs."

The remainder, if any, would go to "bonded indebtedness," meaning paying off school debt would take a back seat to more immediate school operating costs.

"We've gotten into a fix where the budget is really tight and they need money for operating costs," said Baker.

While this vote will not change the wheel tax rate, the discussion is expected to open a can of worms.

Commissioner Terry Roland said he plans to call for the commission to kill the wheel tax altogether. Roland was not available for comment Sunday.

"Opponents of the wheel tax have always said this was supposed to be a temporary thing to retire some school construction bonds, which is how it started and it just kept on and on and on," said Baker.

The wheel tax has two more readings before the final vote. If the commission votes to change how the wheel tax is spent, it would go into effect July 1.

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