NASHVILLE — If Scott County wanted to tack on a fee for an ATV permit that was in addition to the state fee, it would not have the authority to do so.
That is according to an opinion issued by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery III.
Slatery’s opinion, No. 17-12, was issued Feb. 24, in response to a request by State Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, who represents the 12th Senatorial District, including Scott County.
Yager posed the question, “If the state, by law, charges a fee for the issuance of a certain permit or license, does a local government have the authority to increase the state fee or impose a fee additional to the state fee for the issuance of the permit or license to the constituents of the local government?”
Slatery’s opinion was that a local government “does not have authority to increase the state fee or impose a local fee in addition to a state fee for the issuance of a permit or license unless the local government is authorized to do so by state law.”
The opinion was unsurprising. While Scott County Commission originally discussed late last year the possibility of tacking on a local fee to the state’s permit fee that allows ATV riders to operate their off-road vehicles on public roadways, commissioners ultimately adopted a resolution asking the state for a new law authorizing the local fee.
The bill that would have established that law failed in a Senate committee last week, amid concerns from state senators about the constitutionality of charging non-residents a higher fee to drive their ATVs on local roadways than local residents would have been charged. As written, the bill would have established a $4 fee for Scott County residents and a $10 fee for non-residents. The fee would have been required for riders during event periods, whether they were riding on public roads or on private trails such as the ATV trails at Brimstone Recreation in Huntsville.
Slatery opined that sovereignty to exercise government’s police power by imposing a license or permit fee resides solely with the state.
“Local government entities, such as counties and municipalities, are political subdivisions of the state. They have no authority except the authority expressly delegated to them by the state or necessarily implied from state law and they may exercise only those express or necessarily implied powers delegated to them by the state,” he wrote.
Slatery wrote that the state legislature can delegate to local governments the authority to impose fees that are in addition to state fees. That was the route the bill filed by Yager, with a House version sponsored by state Rep. Kelly Riesling, R-Byrdstown, attempted to do.