Like many Indiana counties, maintenance of Owen County’s road system is becoming

increasingly difficult as each budget year passes.

 

The Owen County Highway Department’s general budget is funded primarily by the state’s

gasoline and motor vehicle excise taxes through their collection when you fill up your gas

tank and visit the bureau of motor vehicles (BMV), respectively. Our Local Road & Street

budget is funded solely by the Local Option Highway User Tax (LOHUT), commonly referred

to as sur- and wheel tax, depending on the type of vehicle registration one has.

 

Over the last several years, we have seen declines in our general fund revenue due to a

few factors: 1) Increases in vehicle fuel economy have allowed vehicles to travel further

while using less, 2) the state has allowed other state agencies, like the BMV and State

Police, to use part of the gasoline tax revenue to fund those agencies before distributing the

balance of that revenue to local government. In addition, the amount of gasoline tax

collected per gallon has been 18 cents since 2003. Coupled with the dramatic increase in

the cost of oil (which is a major component to road materials), the purchasing power of that

18 cents has not kept up with costs, dropping by an approximate 19%, and 3) the downturn

in the economy has depressed auto sales which depresses motor vehicle excise tax

collections.

 

For a complete overview of Indiana’s local road funding structure, Purdue’s Local Technical

Assistance Program (LTAP) has a good presentation:

http://rebar.ecn.purdue.edu/LTAP1/Resources/lrf_slides/Indiana_Road_Funding_Presentation.pdf

 

Indiana Code: LOHUT Surtax

http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title6/ar3.5/ch4.html

 

Indiana Code: LOHUT Wheel Tax

http://www.in.gov/legislative/ic/code/title6/ar3.5/ch5.html

 

Owen County’s 2012 general highway budget is $1,906,983. During recent budget hearings for 2013, it is estimated to be $1,712,255.

 

Our Commissioners, our County Council members, and our Highway Department have heard from an increasing number of concerned residents about the deteriorating condition of many of our roads. The success of our Highway Department hinges on adequate funding and management. There are a number of things that I see can be done to help reverse the trend.

 

First, we can (and will) petition the state legislature to take action to restore the amount of gasoline tax revenues to levels more adequate to fund local government’s highway maintenance costs. Whether through state adjustments in gasoline and/or excise tax, changing their formula on revenue distributions, setting limits or reversing what other state agencies take, or some other creative solution, a long term solution is needed. The Association of Indiana Counties and Association of Cities and Towns will be helpful forces in this effort. You can also help with this effort by contacting your State Representative and State Senator with your concerns on the subject of local road funding.

 

State Representative Bob Heaton: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9841

State Representative Jim Baird: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9841

State Senator Rodric Bray: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9467

State Senator John Waterman: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 800-382-9467

 

Second, we need to make sure that our own house is in order. Our County Council has been taking a closer look at all highway related budgets. We are already working on making sure we are running efficiently with good equipment and adequate staff, all under a balanced budget. This also involves the development and completion of a county road plan that details current road conditions and projected maintenance.  The work continues, but recent budget levels are still at dangerously low points which limit how much money is available to spend on actual road material.

 

Lastly, our county has had the LOHUT (as mentioned above) since 1998. There are two parts to this, a current surtax of $12.50/year ($25/year is the state limit) assessed on each private passenger vehicle, each truck <11,000 pounds, and motorcycle registered in our county. The other is a current wheel tax of $20/year ($40/year is the state limit) assessed on a variety of large trucks, commercial vehicles, buses, semis, etc. There is one exception where only $5/year ($40/year is the maximum) is assessed for trailers.

 

Owen County’s LOHUT rates have not changed since 1998. If we were to raise these amounts from anywhere between their current level up to their state limit, the additional revenue raised would go straight to our roads. Using the state’s limit as an example ($25 for the surtax & $40 for the wheel tax), Owen County would receive an additional $447,000 in revenue each year. The Town of Spencer would receive an additional $19,000 and the Town of Gosport would receive an additional $7,000.

 

LOHUT Rates from across the state:

http://www.in.gov/bmv/2677.htm

 

No one likes taxes or fees, but unlike a lot of taxes we pay, these LOHUT revenues remain here in Owen County for use on Owen County roads. Indiana Code specifically states that this revenue can only be spent on road materials, i.e. stone, chip & seal, asphalt, and other aggregate. This money cannot be used to pay for employees, raises, equipment, trucks, insurance, utilities, gasoline, etc.

 

Sometime before June 30, 2013, our County Council will be making a decision on whether to increase our LOHUT amounts or keep them the same. Any action taken would not take effect on BMV registrations until January 2014. In the meantime, I am collecting input and opinions from you as residents and taxpayers of County Council District Two. I encourage you to take the time to share your opinion with me by either sending an email to me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or, by calling me direct at 829-4254.

 

Here are some types of information that will be helpful to me:

 

1) If you reside on a county road, what road is it?

2) If you live in the Town of Spencer or on a State Highway, name 2 or 3 county roads you travel most often.

3) How would you describe the condition of the road you either reside on, or the county roads you travel most often?

4) How many registered vehicles do you have?

5) Would you be in favor or not in favor of an increase in Owen County’s LOHUT amounts, and why?

6) Do you have any questions concerning our Highway Department, condition of our roads, our budget, etc.?

 

As always, I welcome any questions you may have on any local government subject, so feel free to contact me when convenient.

 

Sources: Build Indiana Council, Indiana Code, Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles, Purdue Local Technical Assistance Program, Indiana Department of Local Government Finance, Owen County Auditor

 

 

Paid for by Anton Karl Neff personally