Counties get big increase in road funding
By Steve Garbacz | KPC News - The News Sun
Counties will receive a big boost in road funding starting this summer thanks to Indiana’s new road funding law, with each receiving well over $1 million more annually.
Noble, DeKalb, LaGrange and Steuben counties all will receive about a 44 percent boost in annual funding into their motor vehicle highway and local road and street funds, according to an analysis produced by the Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program at Purdue University.
That money is coming from the state, which is, in turn, coming from the wallets of drivers who will be paying an extra 10-cent-per-gallon gasoline tax. That gas-tax hike was the centerpiece of state legislators’ successful efforts this spring to generate new revenue for road repairs.
Motorists also will pay a new registration fee when they renew their license plates, with that funding going toward a statewide grant program for specific projects.
All of the counties are getting a percentage boost based on their current funding levels, which primarily is determined by the total number of miles of road in the county.
Noble County, which has more than 800 miles of county roadways, is getting the largest boost, at $1.54 million. DeKalb County will receive $1.38 million extra, LaGrange County will get $1.3 million more and Steuben County will pick up an additional $1.19 million.
Those numbers will dip next year, but then begin to increase slightly again over the coming years due to the way the state is phasing in the money between the Indiana Department of Transportation and local governments.
Cities and towns also will receive increased funding through the new state roads package, but an analysis of impacts to municipalities is not presently available.
The state will begin collecting and distributing the money at the beginning of its fiscal year in July, so counties should start getting the additional money this summer.
Noble County Highway Department engineer Zack Smith said the numbers from LTAP were higher than his conservative estimates. On the low end, he thought the county might get $1.2 million, so the LTAP analysis showing an extra $300,000 was a welcome windfall.
That money is going to be turned into a lot of new asphalt, as Noble County now can increase the number of miles that will be overlaid each year. Smith has been able to grow the annual maintenance budget from $2.44 million to $3.7 million in the future.
“Generally speaking, we’re going to be doing more paving. We’ll be doing more of everything else we do, too,” Smith said.
On the anticipation of the new road funding, the Noble County Council decided not to tweak the county’s local wheel and surtax rates drivers pay when they register their vehicles, which likely would have resulted in increased fees for a majority of drivers.
In Steuben County, where County Council members will make a final decision Tuesday on enacting the county’s first-ever wheel tax and surtaxes, the new money might influence a change in rates. Steuben County Ordinance 899 — the excise surtax for light vehicles — would charge people 20 percent of their state vehicle excise tax, or a minimum of $25. The wheel tax, Ordinance 900, would charge a flat $80 per vehicle greater than 11,001 pounds and trailers, with the exception of trailers 3,000 pounds and under, which will be charged a $15 fee.
Both ordinances must pass again on a third reading in order to take effect. For the taxes to be collected starting in 2018, they must receive final approval before July 1.
Steuben County Highway Department engineer Jen Sharkey said the additional funding from the state will be key to deciding what the final rates are.
“The report released by LTAP provided a nice starting point for HEA 1002 impacts, although, it is anticipated that the amount that Steuben County is estimated to receive may be lower due to differences in the 2016 disbursement data used to project future funding,” Sharkey wrote in an email.
“However, an increase in infrastructure funding from all levels of government is a critical component in addressing the needs of our local and state communities.”
Counties will receive more funding annually from the state thanks to a road funding package passed by state lawmakers this year. Here’s the impact it will have on local counties:
- Current: $3.43 million
- New: $4.97 million
- Change: $1.54 million
- Current: $3.09 million
- New: $4.47 million
- Change: $1.38 million
- Current: $2.94 million
- New: $4.24 million
- Change: $1.3 million
- Current: $2.69 million
- New: $3.88 million
- Change: $1.19 million
Source: Indiana Local Technical Assistance Program