During the Clay County Council's monthly meeting, the council discussed two new taxes -- a motor vehicle excise surtax and a wheel tax, to use the revenue for road maintenance and repair.
"I'd like to have a committee -- maybe three council members and a commissioner -- to do some research and put together a packet of information," Council President Mike McCullough said. "It's something we need to at least talk about. We have until July 1, of next year to pass it."
The surtax may be set at anywhere from 2-10 percent of the motor vehicle excise tax payments, which are based on the age and the initial retail price of the vehicle, by owners of automobiles, light trucks and motorcycles. The county has the other option of imposing a flat fee of anywhere from $7.50 to $25 per vehicle.
The wheel tax is a flat fee per vehicle of between $5 and $40 on heavier vehicles. The wheel tax would not affect vehicles owned or operated by religious organizations and vehicles owned by the state or county. Both taxes must be passed concurrently if passed at all.
If the taxes are passed, taxpayers would pay the surtax and wheel tax during registration of the vehicle at the license branch. The revenue would be distributed to the county, city and towns to be used only in constructing, reconstructing, repairing or maintaining streets and roads.
"The bottom line is we have two choices," McCullough said. "We can either pass these taxes and take this into our own hands and try to improve things, or we can all just live with what we got and watch the roads continue to deteriorate. If we sit around and wait for the federal or state government to help us, we'll be waiting until the cows come home because it's not going to happen."
Council Member Larry Moss felt there are more than two choices.
"In my opinion, we have three choices -- we can have it, we cannot have it or we can have it at an affordable rate," Moss said. "I understand we got to do what we got to do, but I also understand $25 on a car is a pretty serious jump."
McCullough agreed, but brought up another issue.
"I understand what you are saying, and I agree with you on that option," McCullough said. "But the thing is, if we set it too low then it's not even worth our time to pass it."
Based on research the council members were reviewing from three years ago, at the maximum tax rate, the county would receive $717,000 in revenue. The council discussed how the public needs to understand the roads can't be fixed over night.
"If they start paying it, we're not going to see any revenues out of it until 2013," McCullough explained.
"This is an opportunity to begin repairing infrastructure in the community," Auditor Mary Jo Alumbaugh said. "You have to start somewhere."
McCullough explained he and the other council members don't actually want to pass any new taxes.
"I don't think any of us want to do this, but it's an option we have," McCullough said. "Everybody out there wants nice roads, and the only way we're going to get them is if we pay for them."
Clay County Commissioner Paul Sinders explained that he used to be opposed to the wheel tax.
"A few years ago, I was very much opposed to the wheel tax, but now that I'm on the inside and I see the money and what needs to be done, I've changed my mind totally," he said. "I don't feel like we have a choice. I've heard people at the state level tell us that if counties do not help themselves with the opportunities we've been given, then they aren't going to help us in other ways."
According to www.in.gov, 47 Indiana counties charge surtax fees. Every county surrounding Clay County has a wheel tax.
McCullough explained the council is only in the talking stages.
Toward the end of the council meeting, Sinders wished Council Member Brian Wyndham the best as he assumes his new position as mayor starting in January.
"I appreciate the opportunity to serve on this council," Wyndham said. "This is a very good council, and it is very professionally run. I've learned a lot being up here."
McCullough said the council appreciated his three years of service.
"I hope we can have a good relationship with the county," Wyndham said. "I think that's really important."
During the meeting the council did the following:
* Passed Ordinance No. 26-2011, paying an employee out of incentive funds rather than deferral,
* Allowed reductions and transfer of money of unnecessary existing appropriations including Information Systems from Computer Work Stations at the amount of $207, Computer Peripheral at the amount of $548, Hardware Maintenance at the amount of $1,748, Professional Services at the amount of $1, 000, Training at the amount of $900 and Software at the amount of $1,311.39, all of which were transferred to Computer Server at a total of $5,714.89,
* Passed the county emergency appropriation ordinance which included paying $2,500 out of the County General Fund for jail and courthouse utilities, paying for radio repair out of the E-911 Fund at the amount of $4,235, and paying $3,000 for pre-trial diversion office supplies,
* Approved the 2012 meeting schedule, and
* Passed Ordinance No. 25-2011, a salary ordinance.
The Clay County Council will have a special meeting Monday, Dec. 19, at 1 p.m. The first meeting in 2012 will be Tuesday, Jan. 3, because the first Monday of the month will be observed as a holiday.