Bedford County Board of Commissioners' rules and legislative committee discussed a proposed county wheel tax Tuesday night but ultimately took no action after hearing that the county's Financial Management Committee was already scheduled to discuss it next week.
If commissioners want to put a wheel tax referendum on the November general election ballot, they'll have to hold a special called meeting of the full commission in order to meet the Sept. 7 deadline.
County commissioner Jeff Yoes, at last week's meeting of the full commission, had proposed a wheel tax -- a tax on motor vehicles, paid at each year at the same time as license tag renewal -- with all of the proceeds to go to schools. But commissioners wouldn't suspend the rules to discuss the matter that night, so Yoes had to go through the regular committee process.
Discussion Tuesday night indicated that commissioners don't necessarily support Yoes' idea of applying all of the proceeds to schools, and aren't sure the voters would support it, either. Discussion in the rules committee indicated the possibility of a split, perhaps putting some of the money towards schools and some towards county roads.
"I don't think you've got a snowball's chance if it's just education," said commissioner Tony Barrett.
Commissioner Tony Smith said that since the wheel tax proposal became public, he'd gotten 11 calls from constituents -- none were opposed to a wheel tax in principle, but all were opposed to giving 100 percent of the proceeds to schools. Some callers, said Smith, were unhappy with the current administration of the school system.
No specific figure for the tax was put forward Tuesday night, although commissioners indicated that the tax would probably be less than those of surrounding counties. Each $5 of tax would raise about $250,000 in revenue each year.
Commissioners could enact a wheel tax themselves, but the voters would have the right to stop the proposal and force it to go to a referendum. Rules committee chairman P.T. "Biff" Farrar acknowledged Tuesday night that a petition calling for a referendum would be a foregone conclusion. So commissioners, as they have in the past, are looking at sending the matter directly to the voters.
The rules committee, after hearing that the finance committee was already planning to discuss the wheel tax at its next meeting, decided that no action was required on its part. The finance committee will meet 4:15 p.m. Tuesday at Bedford County Business Complex on Dover Street.
The committee deferred action again on a proposal to change the rules for allowing package beer sales. Sally's Market in Flat Creek and Bedford Market in the Bedford community have asked that the current rules, which require a 2,000-foot distance from the nearest church in order to grant a package beer sales license, be changed to allow package sales as close as 150 feet.
Surrounding counties require distances ranging from 300 feet to 2,000 feet. The City of Shelbyville requires a 500-foot distance. The state won't allow anything more restrictive than a 2,000-foot distance.
"We want to keep alcohol out of Flat Creek," said Ken Bagwell, one of those opposed to changing the distance.
"We are morally opposed to this," said Dale Hasty.
Proponents of the change say that the markets need the package beer sales to survive and to compete with supermarket chains and other businesses. Citizen Mark Farrar, who spoke in favor of the change, said that everyone in the room had done business at a supermarket or restaurant which sells alcohol.
Commissioner Biff Farrar pointed out that any change will affect not only those two locations but the entire county.
Brian Riddle, a member of the county beer board, noted that there's already an inquiry about starting a new business, which would be 2,000 feet away from the churches in Flat Creek. If that new business meets all the requirements it will have to be granted a license, so the question of whether or not alcohol will be kept out of Flat Creek is, in that sense, moot.
Commissioner Tony Barrett said he favors keeping the current 2,000-foot distance.
"I'd never go less than 500," said Barrett.
At last month's rules committee meeting, Commissioner Mark Thomas had raised questions about whether changing the beer sales rules would affect other alcohol-related rules. That question was referred to the county attorney. None of the committee members had heard anything back from the county attorney on the issue, and Thomas wasn't present Tuesday night either. Commissioner Jimmy Woodson said the committee needed to wait to hear from the attorney. Barrett, however, wanted the committee to go ahead and go on record as opposing any change, which would make the county attorney's report moot. Commissioner Ed Castleman wanted to simply push the matter forward to the full commission without the committee making any recommendation one way or the other.
Barrett and Castleman each failed to get seconds for their motions, so Woodson's motion for a deferral ended up passing. The beer issue will come back to the rules committee next month, and Biff Farrar said he would touch base with the county attorney to make sure the committee's questions were answered by then.
The committee placed a 9th District vacancy on Bedford County Agriculture and Education Center board on the full commission's agenda, and also placed the vacancy on the Financial Management Committee -- created by the resignation of the late commissioner Bobby Vannatta -- on the agenda. It's possible that a commissioner from one of the other standing committees will be moved onto the finance committee, with newly-elected commissioner Bob Davis then moved into whatever slot is vacated by that existing commissioner. Earlier this year, when Vannatta first resigned, some commissioners had said they didn't want a newly-elected or newly-appointed commissioner to serve on the finance committee.