By Stuart Hirsch
The Herald Bulletin
ELWOOD, Ind. —
Joining other local government leaders, the Elwood City Council Monday night approved a non-binding resolution urging the Madison County Council to reinstate the wheel tax.
Town and city council members in Alexandria, Edgewood, Pendleton and Summitville have already adopted similar measures; a resolution is on Anderson City Council’s agenda for this Thursday.
As a conservative Republican, Mayor Ron Arnold said he “loves cutting taxes” noting that in the years since property taxes have been in effect, the city’s budget has gone from $8 million to $5 million.
But road and streets need to be maintained properly, and the wheel tax is a good way to pay for those costs because only the owners of cars and trucks pay the fee, Arnold said. The tax can only be used to repair roads and streets.
The Republican-controlled County Council voted to rescind the $25 wheel tax in early April last year over the objections of local government leaders who said they depended on the surcharges to pay for road paving and to provide local matching funds for project that received state and federal funding. It was in effect 2009 to 2012.
If the wheel tax was still in effect, Elwood would have received an allocation of $182,000 this year, Arnold said.
“Nobody likes taxes,” added City Councilman Todd Jones. “But this is something that’s desperately needs to be done.”
Even the Republican-Controlled Indiana Senate seems to agree.
Last week, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved a budget that includes additional money — about $101 million — dedicated to local roads and streets. To be eligible to receive that money, however, counties must have the wheel tax in place.
“There needs to be skin in the game,” Indiana Senate President David Long said. “There is a method for helping yourself — the wheel tax. We think if the state invests, so should the locals.”
Currently the tax is optional, and 45 Indiana counties have chosen not to implement it.
County Councilman Rick Gardner, R-District 4, has long opposed the wheel tax. He voted to rescind it in Madison County and agrees counties and local governments should share in costs if they expect to receive state funding, But he thinks adopting a policy that effectively forces counties to enact a tax increase is wrong.
If counties decide to spend more money on roads maintenance than other services, they shouldn’t be penalized for not having a wheel tax, he said.
That may be a choice the county can make in its budget, Arnold and others argue, but it’s not an option that most municipal governments have.
“We have several miles of road that we can’t ignore,” Arnold said.
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