Shelby County Commission to discuss raising wheel tax to fund transportation

Updated: Jan. 6, 2020 at 9:48 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - One of the most controversial taxes in Shelby County could see an increase. The wheel tax is up for discussion during Wednesday’s county commission meeting.

The wheel tax is a $50 fee motorists pay to drive on roads in Shelby County.

“For us to look at increasing that distrusted wheel tax further is going to be a hard sell,” said Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford Jr.

Ford says a proposed resolution to increase the motor vehicle tax by $20 has caused some concern in his community. Primarily because the wheel tax was supposed to be temporary, but it’s been around since 1987.

It started off as money for repayment of county debt.

In 2001 the fee was doubled from $25 to $50. Half of the money generated from the tax was supposed to be for school bond debt and the other half for school operations.

In 2016 the Shelby County Commission voted to use 100 percent of the funds for school operations. Now the plan is to use revenue generated from the $20 increase for the woefully under-funded Memphis Area Transit Authority.

“Why should those same constituents trust that this money will go where it says it will go allegedly in this new legislation," said Ford.

In the resolution as it is written, MATA will be required to provide two seats on the MATA board, new bus routes to the county’s largest employers including Federal Express World Hub and reduce the commute time to Raleigh-Frayser by at least 50 percent.

However, even one of the resolution’s sponsors isn't convinced that funding MATA should be done through the wheel tax.

“No, no I would be for a separate transportation fee and I would much rather not disturb the wheel tax and allow that to be solely for education,” said Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner.

Commissioners Turner, Tami Sawyer and Willie Brooks are co-sponsors of the bill. WMC Action News 5 did reach out to Sawyer and Brooks but did not get a response.

“Typically when we sponsor resolutions that’s really to get it out there for debate, deliberation,” said Turner.

Sammie Hunter with the Memphis Bus Riders Union says he will not be in favor of increasing the wheel tax.

“I like the fact that the county is pushing transportation to the forefront, but I don’t think it should come at the expense of taxpayers,” said Hunter.

Hunter says he would be in favor of increasing the motel, scooter or gas tax.

Commissioners Turner and Eddie Jones will be sponsoring a town hall meeting Thursday at Greater Harvest Church at 6 p.m. Turner expects the proposed wheel tax increase to be a hot topic.

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