Wheel tax and jail allegations at county meeting

Posted By | January 17, 2002 12:00 am

Emily Moorehead
Kenneth Milligan struck the executive gavel numerous times Monday night in attempts to bring order to the joint Steering Committees meeting of White County commissioners.
Among attendees in the audience were over 40 White county residents concerned with the alleged mistreatment of inmates at the White County Jail, and many spoke out of turn throughout the meeting.
First to speak to the committee was Bill Rogers of the University of Tennessee County Technical Services.
Rogers clarified for the commissioners many points regarding a wheel tax being instituted in White county.
He stated the wheel tax could be achieved in three ways:
1) the county commission passed a proposal by a two-thirds majority at two separate commission meetings. Rogers said if they went that route, the public would have 30 days to refute the proposal through petitioning.
The petition would have to contain at least 10 percent of the names of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election to have an effect.
2) the commission may pass a resolution by a majority vote from members, asking that a public referendum be included on the ballot.
3) by private act, which would have to go through state legislators, and would have to pass the county commission by a two-thirds majority.
Rogers said most legislators “don’t want to fool with that,” in regard to private acts.
“It’s not the simplest tax in the world to administer,” he told the committees.
He clarified for the committees the wording which may not be used on a ballot, and said a simple “yes” or “no” was all that was allowed.
Rogers offered to word the proposal on the ballot for the county.
The commission had wondered if they could have a vote which resembled “I vote yes to a wheel tax,” or “I vote yes to raising property tax.”
“There’s absolutely no provision on the ballot for a property tax,”
said Rogers, adding the county could tell voters the property tax would be raised without a wheel tax, but there could not be a vote on raising property tax.
Kenneth Milligan asked Rogers about farm vehicles being exempt, and if households with more than four or five vehicles could be exempt.
Rogers stated the only legal exemptions were non-residents, veterans and school buses.
No farm vehicles were exempt.
“That’s about it,” he said.
“Farm trucks have a wheel tax to my understanding.
You can only do what state law allows you to do.”
Rogers also told the committees that no fee cap could be voted into the wheel tax, stating a referendum must be held each time the county wanted to raise the wheel tax.
“Let’s start thinking about saving money instead of spending money,” Carl Alverson, Jr. said to the members of the commission.
Almost immediately, a complaint was raised by a guest as to why the meeting was held at 5 p.m. when some people could not get there until later because of work.
Gordon Scott then asked if the wheel tax would take care of the property tax mistake made by the state.
“We don’t know yet, but we know we have 16 cents still facing us from last year,” Milligan said.
“No wheel tax, no tax of any kind,” spoke a male voice from the audience.
It was then stated by a committee member that 90 percent of tax increase comes from the jail.
“Let the prisoners go and raise their own food,” spoke another voice from the audience.
Milligan said even if the prisoners raised their own food, they would not be allowed to eat it because of federal and state regulations, so it would have to be given away.
Mayor of Doyle, George Barlow, then took the podium to request law enforcement protection for the city of Doyle.
“We need to work out something where we can get some protection in Doyle,” he said in his appeal to the commission.
“The sheriff says he doesn’t have enough patrols.
We do have a police car, if we could just figure out how to pay an officer.
The crime rate is high.”
James Cantrell, an audience member, stated “The junior high and high school are about this far apart, and I don’t see why an officer couldn’t serve two schools.”
Milligan asked if he could get with the sheriff and work this out.
The question was then raised by an audience member as to why deputies drive their cars home at night and keep them at their residences during off hours.
Someone said it was thought that having a patrol car in neighborhoods cut down on crime in those neighborhoods.
Raymond England said he understood that travel time was essential for deputies when called from home, and having the cars in their possession 24 hours a day would make for quicker response time in an emergency situation.
“I don’t think it’s right for me paying taxes to support them,” said a woman of the car situation.
Anita Eldridge stood and said she had personally spoken to Sheriff Guy Goff about it, and he told her it was necessary for response time.
An audience member stated jail correction officers and jail administrators also drove county vehicles to and from work, and someone else questioned why taxpayers had to pay for the vehicle maintenance and fuel.
“The next item on my agenda is what we’ve been discussing all night,” said Milligan, referring to the jail problems which had been interjected throughout the meeting.
James Cantrell rose and spoke of when he violated his probation and, though he took responsibility for his actions, he stated of his time in jail, “There’s no reason for someone like me who works 40 hours a week [to] have to go seven or eight days to brush my teeth because I didn’t have a toothbrush.
You have power hungry little CO’s [correction officers] in there that like to abuse their power.”
Cantrell also stated there was less commissary at the new jail.
He cited an instance where a married couple are incarcerated at the same time, and the wife was pregnant.
Cantrell said the husband begged the correction officers to place his commissary money in her account so that the fetus would be fully nourished.
Cantrell said this was denied.
“But what about that baby?” he said.
“It doesn’t deserve the treatment it’s getting.”
Cantrell also stated he paid $1 to $1.50 for an aspirin whenever he needed it while he was incarcerated, and someone in the audience said they had personally heard P. J. Hardy, the jail administrator state when he got to the new jail, he was going to make money off the inmates.
Hardy said, “It an absolute lie that I said I was going to make money off of prisoners.”
Milligan stated he believed inmates were human beings.
Tina Brown addressed the group and said of inmates, “They’re being treated like animals, and then they’re supposed to come back out on the street and be law abiding citizens.”
Another outbreak of sound came from the audience as many began speaking at once, and Milligan again used his gavel to quiet the crowd.
It was stated from an audience member that she had spoken with the nurse over at the jail, and weight loss was an issue with the inmates.
Milligan said if the sheriff needed money, he had not requested it of the county commission.
Brown stated fear of punishment from the Sheriff’s Department keep people from talking.
Milligan asked for them to get a list of all complaints and he would check on it.
Many allegations were made of correction officers and deputies, and the meeting ended with many audience members feeling their questions had not been adequately answered.
Sheriff Guy Goff, when reached later for comment, said “If the inmates don’t like our jail, don’t go to jail.
It’s just that simple.
We have deputies working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and we see the same defendants over and over.
Just stay out of trouble and you will not be in jail.”
(Editor’s note:
Look for a jail update in a future edition of The Expositor.)

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