County Council Intends to Revisit Wheel Tax This Year

Kosciusko County Council members expressed their intention to revisit the wheel tax and surtax again this year, after hearing Thursday about the importance of the road funding source to Northeast Indiana.
John Sampson, Northeast Indiana Regional Partnership president, updated the council on the Regional Cities Initiative – the state legislature looks ready to approve the full $42 million match for all three regions selected – and talked about the value of local road-funding taxes to the 11 NIRP member counties. He said wheel taxes and surtaxes were a hot topic at a recent meeting of the Mayors’ and Commissioners’ Caucus, and was identified as a priority in the Caucus’ 2016 legislative agenda.
Seven of NIRP’s 11-member counties are in the top 5 percent in the country for wealth generated by manufacturing, he said. Kosciusko County comes in at about the middle of the list, and at number 58 in the nation – around the top 2 percent nationally – according to data he provided.
The region benefits from being a day’s drive from 60 percent of the major metro areas in the country, but is reliant on good roads to make that happen, he indicated.
“Manufacturing is all about getting your goods to market (so) there’s an emphasis on how important infrastructure is,” he said. “At the Mayors’ and Commissioners’ Caucus, there was a general agreement that if you ask for more support from the state, they’re going to ask if you’re doing all you can for yourselves at the local level.”
Six of the 11 member counties have enacted a wheel tax and surtax while a seventh, Huntington, passed but has not yet implemented them. Kosciusko County passed them in June 2014, setting the surtax at $25 and wheel tax at $40; and while council members considered lowering the fees last year, they ultimately voted not to.
Councilman Tom Anglin, who was elected by caucus in October to finish Jim Moyer’s term, said Thursday he has no problem with the taxes themselves but has a dispute with the rate. He was not on council when members hashed out the taxes over the past two years.
Anglin said he doesn’t think senior citizens who only take their boat to the lake once a year should be charged $40 for the trailer.
Council President Bob Sanders pointed out that lowering the tax means paving fewer miles of roads – at a cost of $100,000 per mile, the county could afford to pave 13 miles in the past year as opposed to the three miles it could afford before the tax, he noted. He also said changes would have to be made by June for a new rate to be in effect next year.
Also Thursday, commissioners:
• Approved reappointing Jim Haney to another four-year term to the Lakeland Regional Sewer District Board.
• Declined to vote on a $15,800 additional appropriation requested by Bell Memorial Public Library. The library is requesting to use its own funds but no one representing the library attended the meeting to address the request.
• Approved additional appropriations including $560,000 for the Kosciusko County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission’s 2016 budget, which is funded by the innkeeper’s tax; and $565,000 for North Central Co-Op TIF infrastructure, which County Administrator Ron Robinson noted had to be re-appropriated to cover road work begun but not finished last year due to weather.