ANGOLA — After one failed attempt to amend one portion of a proposed local option highway user tax, the Steuben County Council approved the new taxes Tuesday.
Taking up the matter a third and final time as required by law, attempts were made to raise the final tax on passenger vehicles on two tries by two Steuben councilmen.
Ordinance 899 — the excise surtax for light vehicles — will charge people 20 percent of their state vehicle excise tax or a minimum of $25. The wheel tax, Ordinance 900, will 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 passed 5-2. For the taxes to be collected starting in 2018, they had to receive final approval before July 1.
“It takes political will to raise taxes and apparently they had it,” County Attorney Don Stuckey said about members of the council.
Two attempts to amend the tax rate higher in Ordinance 899, the one for passgenger vehicles, failed. On the first attempt, Councilman Ken Shelton wanted to raise the tax to a flat $45 per vehicle. It died for a lack of a second. Councilman Dan Caruso got a second on a proposal to make 899 charge a flat $40 per vehicle, but that was defeated 5-3.
Because the measure was an amended version of the ordinance, it could be brought back as approved the first two readings and it — and Ordinance 900 — passed on the same margin as it has ever since it was first offered on April 18.
Voting for the taxes — both must be approved in order to be levied — were Council members Shelton, Caruso, Rick Shipe, Linda Hansen and Ruth Beer voted yes. Voting no were Council members Jim Getz and Wil Howard. This split reflected all three readings of the two ordinances.
After approving 899, Shipe, the council president, asked if Council members were ready to move forward with 900 or if they wanted to offer amendments.
“Is everybody happy with this,” Shipe asked.
“Is anybody really happy with any of them,” countered Beer.
“This is probably the least desirable part of this job,” Shipe replied.
Initially the goal of the highway department was to generate about $2.5 million in funding annually for road maintenance in order for the county to adequately keep up roads. Without LOHUT, the county would receive about $480,000 from gas tax money in 2017 and 2018.
However, on Tuesday Highway Engineer Jen Stuckey upped the total to $3.1 million because she said the previous data didn’t take into account work needed for gravel roads. The $2.5 million was just for hard surfaced roads.
Even when presented with information that Steuben County is going to receive $1.19 million in new funding from House Enrolled Act 1002 passed this year by the Indiana Legislature, Sharkey stuck by the proposed tax that already had been approved.
This year’s legislation raises the gasoline tax by 10 cents a gallon and adds an additional $15 per vehicle registration fee. With the new $15 fee, which goes into effect July 1, Steuben County passenger vehicle owners will be paying a minimum of $40 more for their vehicle registrations starting in 2018.
County officials for decades have tried to get the Legislature to allow local option gas taxes so counties such as Steuben, with all of its tourism traffic and traffic from the interstates, can collect additional money based on road usage. That has never flown in Indianapolis, leaving Steuben County with only one option, LOHUT.
Several county councils before the current one have discussed LOHUT but never have pursued the matter beyond taking a pass on adding the new tax that has been available to counties since 1980. The current council has discussed the measure the past three years, finally putting it on the table in ordinance form this year.
The registration increase for Steuben County won’t come into play until next year. Because vehicle registrations are paid alphabetically over the course of the year, it is expected revenue generated from the tax won’t be used until 2019.