If some citizens have their way, Monroe County voters might wind up having a chance to say no to a $25 wheel tax increase the County Commission passed last week.
Commissioners passed the wheel tax increase on July 23 by a 7-3 margin, saying the extra revenue is needed to help the stressed county budget. However, the controversial wheel tax increase could be overturned by Monroe County voters if some citizens get enough petition signatures from registered voters to force a special election.
Madisonville resident Emma Berger is one of the key players passing the petition around but said she is not alone in the effort to at least give citizens more of a voice. She said it is a grassroots effort going on throughout the county.
“It is really crossing party lines,” Berger said. “It is uniting us.”
Berger said the group is having meetings in all the county’s towns and is setting up booths for registered voters to sign the petition, including one in the former Fred’s parking lot in Sweetwater on Friday.
Berger has been interested in issues before but has not necessarily taken this active of a role in local politics. She is helping spearhead this petition drive because she worries what the extra wheel tax cost will do to the elderly and citizens on fixed incomes.
“I do a lot of volunteer work,” she said. “I know how it is going to hurt people.”
On Monday, Monroe County Administrator of Elections James Brown said Berger and the group must get 1,471 signatures of registered voters on the petition to force the special election in accordance with state law. State law requires that the petitioners get enough signatures to equal 10 percent of the number of votes cast in Monroe Country for the last governor’s election, which was 14,710 votes in November 2018.
Brown’s office will have to verify all the signatures and if that is done, the Election Commission would then certify the petition and it would move on to the County Commission. Brown said by state law, the County Commission would be legally required to call for the special election on the wheel tax increase within 75 to 90 days of receiving the qualified petition from the Election Commission. The election ballot would only have one question posed to voters: A yes or no question as to whether they are in favor of the wheel tax increase.
Brown said the special election would cost the county between $25,000 and $30,000 with all the precincts up and running for the election.
Berger is aware the cost of having a special election could be thrown up to her and the group circulating the petition to have the called election on the wheel tax increase. However, she has an answer to that.
“They can prevent that,” Berger said of any County Commission members who might be concerned about the cost of a special election.
In fact, Brown said the County Commission has the ability to overturn their wheel tax increase vote taken on July 23 within 30 days if they chose to do so.
Berger said she hopes no one tries to lay a guilt trip on members of the petition drive and those who sign it. She said she just wants citizens to have a voice and for commissioners to investigate more alternatives as opposed to a wheel tax increase.
Berger said she knows commissioners face tough problems and tough choices when it comes to the budget. Berger said she wants to hear more from 1st District Commissioner Joe Anderson, whom she thinks tried to be open minded about the budget and what a wheel tax increase would mean for citizens.
Though the media, Facebook and other social media can help get the word out about the petition, organizers still will have to collect signatures the old fashioned way—in person. Along with the booths set up to collect signatures in mass, petitioners will be going door to door in the 90-degree summer heat.
Berger says a lot of positives are coming from the petition drive. She said she and others in the petition drive are finding out citizens want more say in government overall, not just when it comes to the wheel tax.
But will it all be for naught even if county voters overturn the wheel tax increase? Berger is researching to see if the County Commission could still pass a wheel tax increase later even if voters overturn the increase passed on July 23.