County residents can expect improved roads within a few years as the Clay County Council approved two new taxes Monday evening.
Council President Mike McCullough read Ordinance No. 10-2012, which states the council has the authority to impose an annual surtax and wheel tax and requires the council to impose the two taxes concurrently.
The ordinance reads because of Clay County experiencing a severe shortfall in local road and street distributions needed to maintain and improve the streets and roads, beginning Jan. 1, 2013, all passenger vehicles, motorcycles and trucks with a gross weight under 11,000 pounds, registered in Clay County, are now subject to an excise surtax of $25 to be paid at time of registration.
Beginning the same time, buses, recreational vehicles, semi-trailers, tractors, trailers 11,001 pounds or more and trucks over 11,000 pounds, registered in Clay County, are now subject to an annual wheel tax of $40 to be paid at registration.
Also, trailers 11,000 pounds or less, registered in Clay County, are subject to a wheel tax of $20 to be paid at time of registration.
The ordinance exempts the following vehicles from the wheel tax:
* Vehicles owned by the State of Indiana,
* Vehicles owned by a state agency of the State of Indiana,
* Vehicles owned by a political sub-division of the State of Indiana,
* Buses owned and operated by religious or non-profit youth organization, and used to haul persons to religious services or for the benefit of their members, and
* School buses and other vehicles owned and operated by the Clay Community School Corporation.
The ordinance reads, "All of the excise surtax and wheel tax funds collected on motor vehicles registered in Clay County shall be deposited in a separate fund by the Clay County treasurer, and titled, 'Clay County Wheel Tax Fund.' ... The funds distributed shall be used only to construct, reconstruct, repair or maintain streets and roads under the jurisdiction of the respective county, city and towns."
Clay County Commissioner Vice President Paul Sinders spoke to the council before they voted on the ordinance.
"(The commissioners) are very passionate about the surtax and the wheel tax," Sinders said. "I do think we need it. I commend you for giving this strong consideration tonight. I do hope you approve it so we can get a head start on this. Money is not available (to fix) the roads, and with the wheel tax, I think it is going to be a great benefit."
Sinders found after researching the county could receive revenue of $678,139 within the first year. The commissioners would split the money so that each of the districts would receive $226,000. Each commissioner will be able to improve 22-23 miles of roads in their district each year.
"The public needs to understand this is going to be a great help, but this is not going to fix the roads over night," Sinders said, adding he wants to remove berms and brush, as well as work on ditching before repaving any roads.
"Weather conditions will dictate when we start," he added.
The council motioned after passing the ordinance the commissioners will give a written report before the December meeting each year to explain what has been done and how the money has been spent at that point.
Mayor Brian Wyndham said he would speak with the Brazil City Council and other officials about also creating an annual written report.
"I'm in support of the wheel tax on behalf of the city," Wyndham said. "It's going to create a dedicated fund so we can start working on the roads. I do appreciate you guys supporting the wheel tax. I think it will be a positive thing, and (the county) will see benefits from it. It's a tough spot you're in, especially for this particular year, but I support you, and I'll stand behind you 100 percent."
Council members Rita Rothrock and Dolores Johnson both agreed they used to be against the wheel tax, but now they are in favor of the taxes.
"This is very important for our county," Rothrock said. "I was not for it to begin with, but you have to change your mind sometimes."
Johnson said, "The roads we have now don't entice new businesses or help our local businesses now. If you don't spend money, you're not going to make money. If we don't improve things, it's not going to get any better. I'd like to see our county improve, and the only way to improve is we're going to have to help ourselves."
Clay County Sheriff Mike Heaton mentioned to the council how no one from the public attended the meeting to oppose the new taxes.
"I think that kind of says what the county is really wanting," he said.
McCullough said he thought the public should know the revenue from the taxes would come directly from the Department of Motor Vehicles to the county's treasurer every month. Only 15 cents is kept for the state. He mentioned an average person doesn't pay both the surtax and wheel tax, but instead they pay based on the vehicles they register. He also said the public should understand the wheel tax doesn't mean residents pay per wheel, but rather it is a fixed cost.
The Clay County Council, after much discussion, voted on the ordinance and approved it, all in favor.
The council discussed how they believe the public needs to be aware the money won't be collected until 2013 and won't be available until late in 2013 so the funds can accumulate.
At any point, the ordinance could be amended or removed at any time based on a four-person vote.
In addition, the council approved the following additional appropriations:
* From the County General Fund, $30,298 to the Clay County commissioners' Hamilton Center project, which is mandated by the state,
* $3,787 as a refund to Information Services after switching to new software. This appropriation is at no expense to the county, and
* For the West Central Indiana Economic Development District transportation study, $4,026.