Petition in Hawkins County could prevent wheel tax increase

HAWKINS COUNTY, TN (WJHL) – Hawkins County Commissioners balanced the budget Monday night, five days before the State Comptroller was set to step in and do it for them.

Commissioners agreed on a $40 wheel tax increase to offset the $2 million deficit.

But as News Channel 11 learned, a petition could stand in the way of that happening.

On Monday night, Hawkins County Commissioners went back and forth on trying to decide on a tax increase in the county.

First, commissioners voted against a wheel tax increase 12-8.

Then, a property tax increase was brought up, then tabled, before re-considering the $40 wheel tax increase.

During that re-vote it passed 15-5.

Hawkins County Finance Director Nicole Buchanan said the budget is balanced for now.

“If the voters get up a petition, which in Hawkins County will require 1,095 signatures, it can be placed on a referendum for a special election,” Buchanan said.

Hal Trent of Rogersville says he’s been gathering signatures, along with several other people. He thinks there have already been enough signatures gathered. They still have until July 26 to reach that number.

“I feel confident right now from the input I’ve gathered from the other people that we already have more than enough signatures,” Trent said.

He said a tax increase seems inevitable, but he believes it should be up to the voters, not the commissioners on whether it should be a wheel tax or property tax increase.

“It’s a no-win situation either way. But let the people make a stand and make a vote on it, see how things turn out and go from there,” he said.

If a special election happens, Buchanan says it will cost the county nearly $75,000.

Then, depending on the outcome of the vote, there could be a 22-cent property tax increase that would be considered in August.

She said right now, they are just having to play it by ear.

“We have to see if there are enough signatures first and depending upon that then we will bring back the property tax levy because we’re unbalanced again,” Buchanan said.

She said she hopes it all works out in the end, so vital non-profit organizations can continue to run and provide services to the county.

“I think the citizens want to keep the services and that’s why the county commission has chosen to pass wheel tax on the second reading,” she said.

Those collecting signatures on the petition have 30 days to gather 1,095 valid signatures.

The Tennessee Comptroller’s Office said Tuesday afternoon at this point they are seeing the budget as being responsibly balanced.

Copyright 2017 WJHL. All rights reserved.

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