As helpless as passengers in a vehicle whose driver is asleep at the wheel, the Clay County Commissioners expressed their frustration at the possible implementation of a county wheel tax during their recent meeting.
Commissioners President Dave Parr explained that each Commissioner was given $90,000 for his individual district's roads for the entire year, and Commissioner Charlie Brown noted the cost of hot mix for one mile of roadway is $62,000. With the distributions at approximately half of what was received in the past from the state, Brown said the funding received was enough to pave only one-and-a-half miles of roadway.
"It's just not doable," Parr said. "The state of Indiana is pretty much saying, 'You're going to raise your taxes.'"
Auditor Joe Dierdorf explained the disbursement comes from the fuel tax, and Parr said that while implementing a county wheel tax as suggested by state officials would make up the difference in this year's reduced funding, he and the rest of the Commissioners were frustrated at the choices in front of them. Meanwhile, Brown later told Clay County Council members he feels like the state is forcing the hands of the Commissioners.
Legislation is in place that basically states that if counties don't adopt the wheel tax, they won't get the necessary funding, Commissioner Daryl Andrews said.
"What happened to that money?" Brown asked.
"They kept it," said Parr, who explained the county wheel tax would be one of the fees payable when citizens purchase vehicle license plates.
Chosen rates for vehicles to be considered for county wheel taxation include: buses (church bus registration excluded) at $20, recreational vehicles at $20, semi-trailers at $30, tractors at $40, light trailers at $10, heavy trailers (of weight class 12,000-plus pounds) at $20, trucks (of weight class 16,000-26,000 pounds) at $25 and heavy trucks (of weight class 30,000-plus pounds) at $40.
For the cities of Brazil, Clay City, Knightsville, Harmony, Staunton, Carbon and Center Point, the combined allocation for a combined population of 11,596 persons from chosen rates is $91,736.93, as listed on the LOHUT Allocations Report for Clay County. The county allocation subtotal for a population of 14,960 persons is $455,680.47. Meanwhile, the county total of those figures, for a population of 26,556 persons, is $547,417.40.
"I am opposed to implementing any form of wheel tax onto the citizens of Clay County," Andrews said in a written statement issued to local media.
He explained that Local Road and Street Fund, which is funded by the gasoline tax, has returned to its historic level after being artificially high from 1999 to 2003, when the state of Indiana had a nearly $2 billion surplus. The State Legislature returned the surplus tax dollars back to the counties in the form of property tax replacement credits and doubling road funding. Once the surplus was depleted, the Local Road and Street Fund returned to its natural historic level.
"In actuality, funding in the first quarter of 2005 is slightly higher than 2004. We, as local officials, need to change our mindset from increasing taxes when we need more money to finding solutions," Andrews stated. "The solution to increasing the Local Road and Street Fund for the citizens of Clay County is for all rural communities to put enormous pressure on our State Legislature to change the formula for determining the distribution of the gasoline tax."
Due to the rural nature of Clay County, he continued, the index of trucks and sport utility vehicles that use truck plates is higher than average. Virtually every vehicle pays 18 cents of state tax on a gallon of gasoline, but Clay County receives only about 10 cents back in the form of road and street funding because the formula does not take into consideration taxes paid on any vehicle with truck plates. The other eight cents goes to areas with a higher concentration of passenger cars, urban areas like Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville.
"Until the state of Indiana eliminates the state tax on fuel, I cannot support any additional taxes on the backs of citizens to pay for streets while another plausible solution exists," An-drews said.