Needed: The chance to prosper

Needed: The chance to prosper
We're betting that a wheel tax proposal, which will be voted upon by citizens of Clay County on Tuesday, Aug. 28, will:

1) Receive negligible attention from the public. Voter turnout will be very low, and

2) The measure will fail. Horribly.

It's a shame, really. Especially when you stop and consider that the Clay County Commission is asking the citizenry to do something so very simple.

It is asking for the public to make the opportunity to prosper a more viable option in Clay County.

Yes, you heard us correctly. A wheel tax, in our view, isn't some oppressive monstrosity, designed to annually prey on our wallets.

It is, in reality, one of the few ways that county governments can reliably invest year after year in its system of roads and bridges.

Any unit of government that doesn't take that seriously is simply leading its citizens on a road to nowhere.

That's why we commend members of the Clay County Commission who have shown the courage to take a step, albeit a small one, toward maintaining an up-to-date system of roads and bridges.

Naysayers have been singing a familiar tune. The tax is unfair. Owners of small vehicles pay the same amount as heavy, multi-wheeled trucks. City residents will pay taxes on vehicles to maintain county roads. Boo hoo.

What the complainers fail to mention is that owning a vehicle in Clay County, tax-wise at least, is dirt cheap. If you buy a new car in South Dakota that weighs 2,000 pounds or less, you will be assessed $2.50 per month in vehicle license fees for the first four years you own your car. As your car grows older, the fees decrease.

If you own a brand new non-commercial vehicle that weighs between 6,000 and 10,000 pounds (we're maxing out at five tons here, folks) your non-commercial vehicle license fees will fall somewhere around $5.42 per month, and will come out to an even $65 per year for the first four years you own your vehicle.

After the vehicle is over five years of age, the noncommercial license fee falls to $45.50 per year.

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.

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.

We view the wheel tax as an opportunity. On Tuesday, we voters must ask ourselves, as we prepare to mark our ballots, "What is the responsibility of the county commission?"

Certainly we expect the county to focus on roads that connect to major commercial centers. Another responsibility is to grow the business and economy of the county.

We've heard the naysayers complain about what's likely to happen in a few years, once the ethanol plant near Meckling is constructed. "Our roads are going to be torn to pieces!" they wail.

What a nice problem to have.

Are we really serious about developing ethanol and other ag-related industries in our county? Then it's time to get serious about funding our roads.

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

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