Wheel tax vote ahead

Council chooses highest rate; says it wont amount to much

The Rochester Sentinel
By Wesley Dehne, Staff Writer

Fulton County Council hopes to start collecting on Jan. 1 a wheel tax and excise surtax to help cover road repair and maintenance expenses.

That would generate as much as $738,351 a year, which is very little compared to what the county needs, council members said.

The council received little opposition from the public Tuesday as it discussed the taxes. It chose to implement the highest taxes it can. They will be written into ordinances that will be discussed June 16. The council plans to vote that night. The ordinances have to be adopted by June 30 to start collecting revenue at the beginning of 2016.

Council President Gary Sriver started Tuesday’s meeting: “I know there is probably not one county official in favor of imposing additional taxes, but we don’t have any choice.” He noted the county is facing the problem addressing an aging network of roads and highways coupled with stagnant or declining federal subsidy.

“This is the only avenue that’s been provided to us,” councilman Randy Sutton added.

An excise surtax is imposed on passenger vehicles; a wheel tax on other, larger classes and types of vehicles.

For excise surtax rates, the county has two choices: An amount of $7.50 (to) $25 per vehicle; or a rate of 2 to 10 percent of the cost of the vehicle. That applies to cars, trucks less than 11,000 pounds and motorcycles.

The council opted for the maximum of $25 per vehicle.

The council discussed the wheel tax rate range of $5-$40 for different classes of vehicles based upon their weight. Owners of buses, recreational vehicles, semitractors, farm tractors, farm trailers and trucks more than 11,000 pounds would pay that tax.

The council opted for the maximum rate of a $40 wheel tax while excluding trailers less than 9,000 pounds.

Upon the request of citizen Chris Newell, the council drafted a $10 rate for trailers under 9,000 pounds into the ordinance.

A branch processing fee of 15 cents per vehicle is charged by the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles to administer the taxes.

Todd Samuelson and Heidi Amspaugh of H.J. Umbaugh & Associates are consulting. They estimated the maximum rates would generate as much as $738,351 for the county and its municipalities.

Of collected revenue, the county would receive about 87 percent, or $640,650 annually, Rochester almost 10 percent, Akron, 1.7 percent, Kewanna, 1.12 percent, and Fulton, .56 percent. That’s based upon miles of road they maintain.

Taxes would be collected by the BMV, sent to the county treasurer’s office and allocated by the auditor’s office.

Miami, Kosciusko and Cass counties have a wheel tax. Marshall County has opted against one recently, County Highway Superintendent Rick Ranstead said.

Discussion about the new taxes lasted longer than an hour. The highlights: • Walker Conley’s motion for a $15 surtax received three votes, from him, Sriver and Kathy Easterday.

• The motion for the $25 surtax was made by Barry Hazel, and it carried. That was opposed by Conley and Easterday.

• Conley moved for the $40 wheel tax. The vote was 6-1, with Easterday opposed again.

•Buggy registration will remain at $40. Thirty-five dollars of that fee goes to highway funding and the remainder to the county general fund.

• Three people, including Newell, voiced their opinions. Jeff Hasse said he wants to make sure he’s getting enough “bang for his buck.” Conley said not to expect better roads overnight.

Hasse suggested the council consider a frost law, which is a seasonal restriction on vehicle weight limits and speeds on road subject to breakdown during spring thaw.

Said Hasse: “15 and a half percent of people in the county are unemployed, 17 percent are over the age of 65…basically retired…we’re running out of people to pay the money.”

Annette Young said when the council voted down a proposed wheel tax in May 2008, it was due to a grassroots movement and petition. “People don’t want it, and they can’t afford it,” she said.

Sriver said there was less large vehicle traffic then. For example, he said, dairy farms in Indiana have consolidated into larger scale operations, which require larger trucks and equipment.

Young asked if the wheel tax would be rescinded if federal funding increases. Sriver said the council has the option to amend or repeal the taxes in the future.

• HighwayDepartment Superintendent Rick Ranstead noted state gasoline tax revenue has declined as vehicle fuel-efficiency has risen.

“We don’t have the money to build roads… we just want money to Band-Aid them,” he said.

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