During the Clay County Council meeting Monday, Brazil resident Walt Moore brought concerns regarding a wheel tax to the council.
Moore explained he supports a surtax and wheel tax. However, he feels the Clay County Highway Department needs to have a plan of action before receiving any money, and it needs to be held accountable for the money it receives.
"If you give them another $1 million in wheel tax money and you don't make them accountable for it, you are just throwing money down a rat hole," Moore said after explaining his own experiences with the highway department. "They absolutely do not plan. I ask you if you give them wheel tax money, make sure somebody is watching them to make sure they spend that money on the roads and do it wisely."
Moore said Councilwoman Toni Carter had stopped at the highway department to see if they had any plans on how to spend the wheel tax money.
"She was told, 'We don't have any plans because we're busy putting out fires,'" Moore said, "meaning they operate by the seat of their pants."
The council agreed they need to see a plan before a wheel tax is passed.
"We need something we can check on and see that they are doing, rather than just saying we have a plan," Moore said.
Carter agreed, saying, "I'm very concerned (about the road conditions and lack of a plan).
The council agreed the ditching should be in progress or close to completion before starting work on the roads.
"It's got to be put under control," Councilwoman Dolores Johnson said. "We've got to be accountable for it, and I'm not signing anything until they have plans for it."
"You've got people who are used to doing hands-on stuff and suddenly they are being asked to plan," he said. "That's a difficult transition for them to make."
Moss continued to explain that the Clay County Highway Department answers to the Clay County Commissioners. He said the Clay County Council only handles the monetary side of things.
"The commissioners are going to have to make sure they take a leadership position to get that structure in place," he said. "(The highway department) will never create them, because that's not the culture they come from."
President Mike McCullough agreed with Moss that the commissioners are in charge.
"My thought is it's up to each commissioner in their district to sit down with the highway supervisor," McCullough said. "I don't think it is an extremely difficult task to do, but I think they just need to take the time to sit down with the highway people and do it. My opinion is two to three years out is kind of a maximum that they can really plan ahead. You have to modify what your plans are."
The council discussed how often the highway department should have to come to a council meeting to explain what they did with the money they received. Most council members wanted the highway department to come in quarterly to explain how they've spent the money and what they plan to do next.
The council has until July 1 to pass the surtax and wheel tax.
"If we're going to do it, I'd like to bring it up for a vote no later than the May meeting," McCullough said.
If passed, the money would be collected beginning Jan. 1, 2013.
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.
In other news:
* The council appropriated $1.5 million from the Jail CAGIT Fund for refinancing the jail bonds. The bond payments are approximately $800,000 per year, but the county's income is approximately $960,000 per year. The remainder of the money goes into a fund that cannot be used for anything other than paying off the bonds. During a six-year period, the fund has built up a balance of almost $1.9 million.
The $1.5 million appropriated will be used to lower the balance of the bonds, causing the surplus fund to contain $500,000. Each year, more money will be added to the surplus fund, so over a period of time, the fund will build back up.
Refinancing the bonds will result in a gross savings of approximately $5 million, and
* The council performed a first reading for Ordinance No. 6-2012, which amends Clay County personnel policies. The council couldn't pass the ordinance due to the absence of Councilman Chip Hoskins. The issue was tabled until the next meeting.