LIMA — While the wider public may be less than enthusiastic about increasing fuel prices at the pump, government agencies directly in charge of local road infrastructure have expressed support for Gov. Mike DeWine’s initiative to increase the gas tax — a move many infrastructure advocates say is long overdue.
“I can say as a taxpayer, I really don’t want to pay taxes as much as the next guy,” Van Wert County Engineer Kyle Wendel said. “But based on being in this position since 2001, I’ve seen the (price of) asphalt in particular skyrocket by 100 percent, and it’s got us to a point for the last five, six, seven years, we don’t pave on a regular basis.”
Ohio last raised its gas tax in 2005, setting the rate at 28 cents per gallon. Included in the governor’s $7.4 billion two-year transportation budget, DeWine has proposed bumping that rate to 46 cents per gallon of gas to raise an additional $1.2 billion annually for the Ohio Department of Transportation. As a result, each county in Ohio, which receives the same portion from the state regardless of population size, would see an additional $1.8 million per year.
Smaller municipalities would also benefit from the rate increase, each receiving a percentage increase from prior annual allocations. Townships without levies in place would see roughly $60,000 in increased infrastructure revenue per year.
For Allen County, the extra $1.8 million, along with recent increases in permissive license fees, could put the number of resurfaced miles per year to close to 24 miles — a number set by County Engineer Brion Rhodes as the recommended replacement rate for the county’s 352 miles of roads. Without the increases, the county has been averaging four miles of re-paving a year.
“We depend on our roads and bridges everyday. A gas user fee increase is desperately needed to improve conditions,” Rhodes said. “If this proposed gasoline user fee or tax is passed, it would help significantly.”
“To go out there and do anything meaningful, we just couldn’t do it. Now we’re getting some significant dollars if this goes through,” Wendel said.
The sentiment was repeated by Lima Public Works Director Howard Elstro, who, along with Rhodes, has publicly pushed for a gas tax increase on more than one occasion.
The City of Lima would see an additional $775,000 in revenue annually due to the proposed change.
“If we had the funds, we would be resurfacing streets every 13 to 15 years, and we cannot keep pace with that because we do not have sufficient revenue,” Elstro said. “Essentially, the infrastructure of Ohio is going backwards every year. At least this 18 cent increase will help us stabilize and get ahead of the deterioration.”
Gas tax is just a portion of the revenue earmarked for infrastructure improvements by both the city and county. In 2018, the City of Lima spent $3.2 million updating a portion of the city’s 160 miles of roads with less than half of the funds — 47 percent — coming from the state’s gas tax. In 2004, the same gas tax rate supported 60 percent of street-related expenses for the city.
DeWine’s initiative also indexes the gas tax rate to inflation, which could help prevent counties and cities from running into the same patterns of deterioration seen prior to 2019.
“That way they don’t have to put local governmental public works and county engineers in the same predicament,” Elstro said. “The 18-cent increase is for catch-up, and index helps with the problem of falling behind for the future.”
While DeWine included the increase in his biannual budget, state lawmakers have the final say in approving the bump by March 31, which would make Ohio’s gas tax rate the fifth highest in the nation. If approved, the new gas tax rate would go into effect on July 1.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.