Knox County Commissioners voted in favor of a wheel tax that will raise an additional $12 million in funds for the county as its budget remains tightly restricted.
Mike Cohen, Knox County senior director of government relations, said the funds will more than likely go to increased earnings for teachers, expanded parks, improvements for county schools and a new downtown library.
The move has prompted a group of residents to petition against the wheel tax increase, arguing that the public should have a chance to vote on the tax increase before commissioners approve it.
In order for the tax to be reconsidered by the commission in November, 12,000 Knox County residents who voted in the last gubernatorial election must sign the petition before July 28.
Citizens are upset at the reality of having to pay more to drive their vehicles. But Cohen said the money had to come from somewhere and the alternative, a property tax increase, would have been just as controversial.
We have many concerns about the wheel tax increase for citizens who drive cars in Knox County.
First, the tax increase is disproportional. If a single male or female owns one car, they pay just $30. If a family of four with two children in high school who drive pay the increase, they could be taxed four times for the cars they have. In our view, this is unfair.
Second, not everyone in Knox County that owns a car owns property. Therefore, if a property tax increase were implemented, not everyone would be paying. Maybe this is the reason commissioners decided to raise money through the wheel tax increase.
Whatever the reasons, we fully understand the budget situation in the county as well as in the state. Our budgets have been drastically reduced over recent years and city and county leaders have had to address relentlessly the issue of cutting programs and services.
We understand the difficult decision that the Knox County Commission made in their 16-3 vote in favor of the tax increase.
But citizens seem to be stuck on the issue of not having the chance to vote on the increase before it becomes law.
We believe this could become a dangerous precedent. Allowing citizens to vote on every issue addressed by city or county leadership could lead to a pattern of abuse in the local legislative system. Not allowing elected leaders to make decisions on behalf of the citizens they represent strips representative democracy from the process.
We urge the Knox County Commission to continue to listen to the voices of their constituents when making important decisions and suggest voters to present themselves at commission meetings where they have a chance to voice opposition to any moves made by the commission. Remember, they are up for reelection in the future ... that is when you can make your voices heard.