The wheel tax issue came down to finger pointing during Monday’s meeting of the full Warren County Commission. County Commissioner Michael Martin had one forefinger pointed directly at him.
“I’m used to it,” Martin said. “I’m against the wheel tax. I haven’t tried to hide it and they know it.”
Martin was singled out after a request from Commissioner Gary Prater for fellow county commissioners to begin campaigning in favor of the wheel tax.
“I think a lot of people think this is a new tax,” Prater said. “It isn’t. I would suggest that if you are for it, make a sign or go to your polls in whatever district you are in and sit there and try to encourage people to vote for it.”
County Commissioner Joel Akers added, “I’m a firm believer in the wheel tax. It should have never come to a referendum. I would like to ask that any commissioner that has the guts to stand up and say they support the wheel tax to do so now.”
During the meeting, 23 county commissioners were in attendance. All stood up, with the exception of Martin. Then, Akers pointed a forefinger in the direction of Martin.
Martin says he is against the wheel tax because it is not necessary.
“I sit on the Finance Committee and I’ve looked at the numbers,” Martin said. “The wheel tax is not necessary. They want you to believe that it is, but it’s not.”
With paperwork in hand, Martin spelled out why he thinks the wheel tax is unnecessary.
The county’s debt service — what is paid each year in debt payments for various expenditures such as building schools — will drop from $3.1 million in the 2012-13 budget year, to $2.2 million in 2013-14, and $1.8 million in 2014-15, said Martin.
“Those numbers include the debt service for both Dibrell and Morrison schools,” he said. “Even with those two schools, our debt service will drop to $1.8 million and stay there for several years.”
While Martin concedes the wheel tax generates approximately $1 million in funds for the county, he sees variations in the county’s budget preparation that concern him.
“They keep saying we will lose approximately $1 million if we lose the wheel tax,” Martin said. “That’s true, so why doesn’t the county’s budget include the whole $1 million in the budget? You can make numbers say anything you want them to, I guess.”
According to the county’s estimated budget for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011, the wheel tax was estimated to generate $900,000. This year the wheel tax is only estimated to bring in $825,000.
However, paperwork showing a breakdown by year on the actual amount of revenue generated from the wheel tax puts the amount over $1 million for the past eight years.
“They will tell you it’s a low estimate just in case the amount generated by the wheel tax drops,” Martin said of the differences in the budget figures. “It’s not going to drop by $200,000. It has been over $1 million for eight years.”
The wheel tax is $30 on each vehicle, of which Martin says he has five.
“That’s $150 each year for me in wheel tax,” he said. “Any tax increase, if there is one, will be less than that for me. Are you going to get 13 people on that commission to vote for a tax increase? No, you’re not. There won’t be a tax increase.”
In the end, Martin says he will be satisfied either way the wheel tax vote falls.
“If the wheel tax passes, I’m OK with it,” Martin said. “If the wheel tax fails, I’m OK with it. Either way, it’s done and it’s over and we will move on.”
Early voting ends Feb. 28. The primary election will be March 6.