Kosciusko County Council approves changes to wheel tax

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After hearing how much money the county highway department has been losing from the state, the Kosciusko County Council Tuesday unanimously approved increases in most vehicles’ wheel tax.

The new rates go into effect Jan. 1.

Passenger vehicles and trucks with declared weight of 7,000-11,000 pounds will see an increase from $25 to $35.

Historical vehicles, motorcycles and motor-driven cycles will remain at $25.

Farm semi tractors (20,000 to over 78,000 pounds), farm semi trailers (all weights), farm trailers (12,000 to over 22,000 pounds) and farm trucks (11,000 to 78,000 pounds) will increase from $40 to $60.

Off-road vehicles, recreational vehicles, snowmobile trailers and trailers 3,000-7,000 pounds will be reduced from $40 to $25.

All other vehicles will have a wheel tax increase of $40 to $60, including bus other, recovery vehicles (16,000 pounds and over), semi tractors (all weights), semi-trailer, special bus, special machinery, trailers over 7,000 pounds and trucks over 11,000 pounds (16,000-78,000).

At the council’s July 11 meeting, two members of the wheel tax committee proposed a plan keeping the wheel tax for farm trailers (12,000 to 22,000 pounds) and trailers over 7,000 at $40. However, a motion for that plan failed, and the alternative plan the council approved Tuesday night received five of the seven councilmen’s votes.

A plan had to be approved by the council on two votes before Sept. 1 to go into effect in 2020. After two years, the council will review the wheel tax again.

Earlier this month, the county commissioners approved an increase in the buggy tax from $30 to $100.

Tuesday’s council discussion started with President Sue Ann Mitchell reminding everyone the wheel tax started in Kosciusko County in 2014. In 2015 it was fine tuned due to changes in the tax by the state legislature. No changes have made been to the wheel tax by the county since because past councils could not come to an agreement, she said.

She then invited County Highway Superintendent Scott Tilden to talk about the increase in prices he’s seeing for highway material and the cuts in funding from the state.

Tilden said in his Motor Vehicle Highway Fund, from Dec. 1, 2018, to June 30, 2019, compared to the same time period the year prior, “we’re down $513,000. It’s like 13% in MVH.”

In the Local Roads & Streets Fund, he said it was down a little under 2% from the same time period.

Tilden said the decrease in money received from the state plus the increase in costs is an issue.

He said the state collects the gas tax, runs it through a formula and disperses money to cities, towns, counties and the state. The formula is based on road miles and population.

“Last month alone, for June, it was down 20%,” Tilden said.

County Auditor Michelle Puckett said she’s been looking at revenues in MVH and LRS quite closely with Tilden over the past year to 1-1/2 years. While there were significant increases a few years ago, the funds have continued to drop.

She said she and Tilden just got done working on his 2020 budget, which will be presented to the council at its August meeting.

“We received revenue estimates directly from the state this year. We didn’t have to do the calculations that we usually do, they said use these figures. So in using the revenue figures that the state gave us –  that we have to use in our (Department of Local Government Finance) process –  I called Scott about a week ago and said, ‘We worked up your budget and I need you to cut about $600,000,” Puckett said.

The county highway department is responsible for 1,163 road miles. Tilden said last year his department did about 100 miles of chip seal and 26-27 miles of paving. “If you hit 10% that’s really good on a program. This year we probably won’t get quite there,” he said.

Councilman Mike Long said Tilden’s presentation made it “painfully obvious” that “even with the increase in the wheel tax, we’re kind of sitting in a big hole here” based on the falling revenue and increase in prices. He said he didn’t believe the council had a choice about increasing the wheel tax if it wanted to continue to improve the county’s infrastructure. “We must look at an increase. It’s painful. I don’t see that there’s any alternative at this time,” he said.

Mitchell then pointed out a wrinkle in the wheel tax regarding historic vehicles. She said county attorney Chad Miner spoke with someone from the BMV who said they weren’t sure the BMV could break out historic vehicles. A historic vehicle is a vehicle that is at least 25 years old and has a specialty plate from the BMV. After further discussion, the council decided to go forward with leaving the wheel tax for historic vehicles at $25 and Miner will check with the state BMV general counsel.

When Long made a motion to approve the new wheel tax rates, it was unanimously approved. Mitchell thanked the council for their work on the issue.