The Herald Bulletin

May 20, 2013

Madison County reinstates wheel tax in split vote

Fees will go into effect in January

The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — After a one-year hiatus, the owners of vehicles in Madison County will once again have to pay an excise surtax and wheel tax beginning in January.

The Madison County Council Monday night voted 4-3 to reinstate the taxes, usually referred to simply as the wheel tax. Councilmen David McCartney, R-District 1; Rick Gardner, R-District 4; and Buddy Patterson, D-District 2, voted against the measure.

Enacted in 2009, the tax was rescinded by the previous County Council in April 2012 over the objections of Madison town and city government officials who said its elimination would hamper local road maintenance and paving programs. Money from the wheel tax can only be used to maintain and pave roads.

The surtax on passenger vehicles and small trucks will be $25 annually; the additional fee for relatively small trailers will be $5. The tax will also apply to recreational and other vehicles.

The council approved one amendment that will lower the wheel taxes on semitrailers to $15 from $40. Tractors will still have to pay the full $40 fee.

That change was approved because two large county employers, Carter Express and Red Gold, both operate large fleets of trucks and trailers, and also employ many county residents.

Councilwoman Lisa Hobbs, D-at large, said she supported lowering the tax on the largest trailers because not all of them are operating on the roads at one time.

McCartney and Gardner objected to the amendment, however, saying small business owners, who collectively employ more people in the county than any single employer, will be hurt by the additional fees.

“I think it’s a slap in the face to small business,” to lower the tax for companies like Carter Express and Red Gold, and not do something for small employers, Gardner said.

Council President John Bostic, D-District 3, said he appreciated those concerns, but pointed out that the tax for the owners of small trailers, such as those used by lawn care businesses, is at the lowest possible rate under the law.

He also said that because proper road maintenance hasn’t been performed over the years, many roads in the county have to be completely rebuilt instead of simply maintained or repaved.

In 2012, the county received slightly more than $3 million in wheel tax money, according to information compiled by the Board of County Commissioners.

Of that amount, the $1.35 million was available for use by the county while the balance was distributed to local governments. Anderson received the largest share of those funds, almost $1.1 million, while Elwood received the next largest amount at about $182,000.

According to other information provided by Commissioner John Richwine, R-North District, the decision to lower the tax on the largest commercial trailers will reduce wheel tax revenue by an estimated $67,500 annually.

Under the $30 billion budget signed by Gov. Mike Pence last month, the county will receive nearly $2.3 million in new road funding over the next two years — the first increase for local road maintenance approved by state government in yeas.

Still, according to information provided by Richwine, that’s far below the $6.2 million needed annually to properly maintain county roads.

In the week leading up to Monday night’s vote on the wheel tax, Madison County officials had to be reminded of First Amendment rights citizens have after civic activist and Patriot Tea Party member Danny Hayes of Alexandria was banished from Madison County Government Center property for handing out leaflets opposing the wheel tax two weeks ago.

On May 10, he was approached by County Administrator Dan Dykes accompanied by a Madison County sheriff’s deputy and told to go across the street.

Hayes protested, but did as they asked. He stewed about being forced to relocate for a couple of days, and then called the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana for assistance.

Legal Director Kenneth Falk sent the county a letter to ensure Hayes’ right to free speech on the courthouse steps wasn’t trampled.

“As you are undoubtedly aware, the Supreme Court has, many times, noted that sidewalks are quintessential public fora where First Amendments are at their broadest,” Falk wrote in a letter to County Attorney Jim Wilson. “I assume that what Mr. Hayes was told was a mistake that will not be repeated.”

In reply, Wilson assured Falk that Hayes would be allowed to pass out leaflets at the government center “without risk of being stopped or arrested.”

Find Stu Hirsch on Facebook and @StuHirsch on Twitter, or call 640-4861.