Wheel tax needed

Wheel tax needed
At first glance, these two topics appear to be completely unrelated.

Making such an assumption, however, is a big mistake.

The first topic is the escalating price of fuel. Sure, you are feeling it in your pocketbook right now, as you have to shell out more and more cash each time you fill the gas tanks of your automobiles.

But rising fuel prices will have a negative effect on more than just consumers.

Which leads us to topic number two. The Clay County Commission is currently feeling the sting of high petroleum costs.

High gas prices are causing a fuel tax crunch, which, in turn, is simply going to pave the way for more potholes and poorly maintained county roads.

We've already talked about this problem in an earlier editorial. But back then, gas seemed relatively cheap compared to today's prices. The current troubles we are all experiencing at gas pumps is slashing a federal fund that helps keep road maintenance going on our interstates, our state highways and our county roads.

According to recent news reports, a cash crunch is fast approaching for the government trust fund that pays to build and repair highways and bridges.

The federal tax on a gallon of gas has not risen in 14 years and Congress is reluctant to increase it. People are demanding more fuel-efficient vehicles, and it's likely to expect that as fuel prices rise, they may actually drive less. The less gasoline that is used, the fewer dollars that are generated for the fund.

So, let's link topic one and topic two. Higher fuel prices are putting a big dent in fuel tax receipts, which means government entities, already scrambling to find a way to pay for road construction, will only have fewer dollars to work with.

It's not a pretty picture.

The Clay County Commission 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.

This spring, the county commission held a public input meeting to inform those who would listen of the problems it is facing, and its hope that a county wheel tax would provide a means to leverage a method of 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.

And those taxes, it appears, are drying up. A more stable form of funding for the county would be a wheel tax.

The Vermillion Plain Talk editorials reflect the opinion of Plain Talk editor DavidLias. You may contact him at david.lias@plaintalk.net.

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