Bill being considered by state lawmakers could force county to reluctantly impose new tax

A bill being considered by state lawmakers could force Huntington County to impose a new tax on vehicle owners, members of the Huntington County Council learned during their meeting on Monday, April 22.

While about half of Indiana's 92 counties already collect a motor vehicle excise surtax and wheel tax, Huntington County is among those who do not.

Both houses of the state legislature are working on a road funding proposal, and the Senate version would freeze motor vehicle highway (MVH) distributions to a county at 2013 levels unless the county adopts the surtax and wheel tax, Huntington County Auditor Cindy Yeiter told council members.

MVH money is generated through a variety of sources, including gasoline taxes, vehicle registration and title fees and other vehicle-related sources. MVH funds are allocated to counties, which then distribute part of that money to cities and towns within the county, and are used to maintain streets and roads.

In order to receive annual increases in MVH funds, Huntington County would be required to adopt a surtax and wheel tax of at least 50 percent of the state maximum. That means Huntington County residents would pay an estimated $25 surtax for each passenger vehicle, motorcycle or pickup truck each year, Yeiter said.
Owners of large commercial vehicles would pay an estimated $5 wheel tax for each vehicle. The taxes would be collected through the Bureau of Motor Vehicles.

While council members clearly didn't like the idea of a new tax, they were in agreement that Huntington County already doesn't have enough money to maintain its roads properly.

"People will be upset if we have to go back to gravel roads," Councilman Don Davenriner said. "But then, they'll be upset with a wheel tax, too."

Council President John Hacker said county roads are "falling apart" because the money isn't available to maintain them.

Yeiter said the county highway department is giving roads a chip-and-seal surface instead of paving them, and that's being done about every 18 years - more than double the seven-year recommended cycle.

"They are needing to be sealed badly in lots of areas," Davenriner said.

The council, which was missing three of its seven members at the April 22 meeting, plans to discuss the issue in depth during its May meeting. Joel Harris and Kendall Mickley joined Hacker and Davenriner in attending the April 22 meeting, with members Shane Bickel, Todd Landrum and Jaime Miller absent.

In other business:

• The council appointed James Helm to the Roanoke Public Library Board.

Helm, a 10-year Roanoke resident, recently retired after a career in the safety, health and environmental field and currently works part time as a consultant in that field. He told council he's an avid reader and frequent visitor to the library and was asked by the library director if he'd consider filling a vacancy on the board.

• The council approved a request by County Human Resources Director Erika DeVine to advertise for a director of the city-county joint dispatch center. DeVine said the goal is to have the director in place by July 1, when the city-county merger becomes official.