The Gibson County Commission Budget Committee met last week to discuss potential changes to the highway department.
Chairman Michael Longmire opened the public meeting by explaining that he asked Financial Director Greg Pillow to research the potential effect of allocating all wheel tax to the highway dept and bringing back all property tax to the general fund. Committee members Bobby Cotham and Lynn Nance and Commissioner Steve Hughes were also present.
"I want to get the highway department back on its own, independent if possible," Longmire said.
The county and highway dept. currently share wheel tax and property tax money with 13 cents of the 0.9684-cent property tax rate going to the highway department and 43 percent of the $35 wheel tax to the county general fund.
Pillow presented numbers showing that a $10-increase to the wheel tax and an allocation of the full $45 to the highway dept. would put $365,000 in property tax money back into the county general fund. the highway dept. could come out $54,000 in the black.
While leaders stressed that there is no definitive plan to raise the wheel tax, Pillow said the $10 increase is the number it would take to equalize the budgets.
"I just think we need to be allocating money correctly," Longmire said. "I think what that does is let us see the highway department a little more clearly."
Longmire said that if the committee chooses to make the change, the first step would be for the Budget Committee to present a recommendation to the county commission to allocate all wheel tax money to the Highway Department. The second step would be to operate at the current $35 wheel tax or increase it.
There are two ways to proceed with a wheel tax increase.
The County Commission could pass a resolution to increase the wheel tax or the commission could vote to send the increase to the state legislators as a Private Act. If the House and Senate pass the Private Act, it would come back to the commission and would require a two-thirds majority vote to pass the increase.
Pillow said a resolution from the County Commission could be subject to a public referendum to have the increase placed on the ballot.
Based on his research, Pillow said a Private Act created the county's first wheel tax at $10. There was no other Private Act for wheel taxes on the books, so the subsequent increases were apparently enacted from resolutions passed by previous commissioners.
Hughes, who does not serve on the Budget Committee, asked the committee to consider the allocation without increasing the wheel tax.
"Timing's bad for a tax increase, and that's what this is," Hughes said.
Less than a dozen citizens attended the public meeting. Those who spoke asked the committee to maintain the current wheel tax and property tax rates.
"We're trying to maintain the best we can and at the same time try to provide services that every citizen would expect," Longmire said. "I just think that the fairest tax out there is a wheel tax."
Longmire also said that the county is in good shape, but leaders are trying to be proactive to avoid major jumps in property tax rates. Longmire also told citizens that a wheel tax increase doesn't guarantee that the County Commission won't raise property taxes.
All County Commission Budget Committee meetings are open to the public. Longmire said the committee would likely not meet again until 2016.
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