Road funding is taking toll on county

Road funding is taking toll on county
The Clay County Commission isn't really asking for all that much.

It wants to find a way to meet the ever-growing demands for upkeep of the miles of roads and highways and the dozens of bridges that are under its jurisdiction.

The need for roadwork is rather obvious. Paying for the work, at the present time, remains a mystery.

About the only viable funding option available for county governments for road maintenance is a wheel tax. The state of South Dakota allows counties to charge a maximum of $16 of such a tax on every motorized vehicle when their licenses are renewed.

Again, it's not a lot of money. At most, it's estimated that a wheel tax would bring in approximately $200,000 annually to be used by the county highway department.

It's a drop in the bucket, really, when one stops to take a look at the total price of many of the pending county road projects, including Fairview Avenue, the west half of Timber Road, 452nd Avenue and 313 Street.

Bids for the 302 Street project are scheduled to be let this spring. How the county will ever pay for the work, again, remains a mystery. That project may cost approximately $3 million to complete. The county's total annual operating budget is approximately $4.3 million.

The county commission recently held a public input meeting to inform those who would listen of the problems it is facing, and its hopes that a county wheel tax would provide a means to leverage financing for future road work.

The small audience attending the meeting indicated that they felt such a tax was unfair. Out-of-county motorists, for example, could provide plenty of wear and tear on our roads without helping to pay for their upkeep. Many audience members said, for that reason, funding local road work through gas taxes would be more fair.

There's just one problem. Counties can't collect gas taxes. At best, they get hope for federal or state grants made up of monies generated by such taxes.

But fuel taxes are proving to be a poor funding source right now. Those dollars seem to be drying up, because state and federal gasoline taxes can't keep up with demand for road construction and its spiraling costs.

Materials and labor for road construction rose 35 percent from 1998 to 2005, while the consumer price index rose 19.8 percent, according to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.

Federal gas taxes are not linked to inflation – nor to the price of fuel – and have lost an estimated one-third of their value since 1993, when they were raised to their current rate of 18.4 cents per gallon, according to a study paid for by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

State gasoline taxes range from 7.5 cents per gallon in Georgia to 45.7 cents�in New York. Only Connecticut, Florida, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina and West Virginia have gasoline taxes that vary with the price of fuel or inflation. Wisconsin will no longer index its gas tax after this year's annual adjustment.

Gas tax revenues will fall $1 trillion short of meeting transportation needs by 2015, the Chamber's study predicts.�

If states are suffering from highway funding woes, you can bet they won't be able to lend much assistance to counties.

The country's transportation network has suffered from overuse and a lack of maintenance, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers. A third of the nation's roads are substandard, and 27 percent of�bridges are deficient or obsolete, according to the ASCE.

In addition, traffic congestion costs an estimated $67.5 billion annually in wasted time and fuel, the association reports.

One can bet that the terms "substandard, deficient and obsolete" will be used to describe the county's road and bridges if something doesn't change.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor David Lias. You may contact him at

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