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County passes five-cent gas tax

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Tax takes effect beginning of 2018; projected to cut Road deficit in half

By Sean Arnold

The Levy County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday passed a gas tax ordinance for five cents per gallon of motor fuel.

The ordinance, which required a supermajority, passed on a four-to-one vote. It takes effect Jan. 1, 2018.

The tax does not apply to diesel fuel, which is already levied at its maximum allowed rate throughout the state.

The motion was offered by Mike Joyner and seconded by Rock Meeks.

“Those guys out there (working on the roads), the equipment they have to use now is awful,” Joyner said. “The work they’ve done is tremendous. There are a lot more roads paved now then there were 10 years ago, but if we don’t get the money to the people who are doing the work, where they can get the equipment, it’s not going to get any better. It’s going to get worse.”

A portion of the revenue from the tax will be shared with municipalities. The statute requires the distribution of revenue – which will go towards the upkeep, maintenance and construction of roads – to be based upon transportation expenditures, unless local governments agree differently.

The ordinance, which didn’t require the inclusion of an expiration date, is set to expire on Dec. 31, 2047. The Board can revisit the ordinance at any time before that date.

The five-cent levy is part of a Local Option Gas Tax, which allows for anywhere between two to five cents in additional tax per gallon. It comes on top of the six cent per gallon tax that’s already in place throughout the state.

The County last adopted a new gas tax in 1986.

Levy finance director Jared Blanton reported that the Road Department is projected this year to transfer $1.5 million from the general fund to cover its deficit, even after a $200,000 cut to the department’s construction budget. The gas tax is projected to generate around $900,000 in revenue, with around $818,000 going to the County, according to recent state estimates, roughly cutting in half the deficit transfer.

Blanton also confirmed, for Commissioner Chair John Meeks, that the costs of purchasing asphalt has roughly quadrupled since 1986.                   

At the meeting, some citizens in attendance raised concerns the tax would have a detrimental effect on revenue due to consumers choosing to purchase fuel out of county. Chairman Meeks pointed out that neighboring counties Alachua, Marion and Citrus already tax their fuel at the maximum amount, and County Coordinator Wilbur Dean advertised a chart indicating fuel consumption remains steady throughout fluctuations in fuel prices.

“Typically, (those counties’) gas prices are cheaper than ours,” Meeks said, “so the correlation of the gas tax and gas price isn’t a very fair way to judge it. There may be a spike in gas prices temporarily, but economics are going to bring those prices back down, because they’re going to lose business. That money’s out there, somebody’s making it. We need to put this money back into our taxpayers’ pocket by fixing roads.”

Meeks said the gains in fuel tax revenue seen through the increase in population has been offset by increasingly fuel-efficient vehicles.

Chairman Meeks, Rock Meeks and fellow commissioner Matt Brooks said consumers will, in the long run, overwhelmingly purchase fuel at the most convenient location, near home or work, rather than seek out the cheapest fuel prices.

“If you go to the east to buy gas (in another county), that tax is going to go to fix the roads in the county to the east,” Rock Meeks said. “You go to the south, that tax is going to go toward the roads in the county to the south.”

“The closest gas station to my house is where I fill up the most,” he added.

Brooks was in favor of the measure, but expressed concerns over the 30-year sunset date.

“I’d like us to revisit it sooner,” the freshman commissioner from Williston said. “I know we need the revenue and there’s limited places to find the revenue. I think we should address it sooner than the 30 years.”

Commission Lilly Rooks was the lone vote in dissension.

“I struggled with this, because I know roads affect us daily,” she said. “But I also know we’ve got 56 subdivisions in Levy County that are paying yearly on the tax bills to have work done on these roads. These (subdivision residents) also pay gas tax, and I don’t think it’s fair that these people are paying double. Even though I know most of these people knew what they’re getting into, it still doesn’t sit right with me.”

In supporting the ordinance, John Meeks said it puts a smaller burden on more people than raising the millage rate. He also noted that a majority of states have either raised gas taxes or considered legislation for raising gas taxes in the last two years, suggesting a shortfall in transportation revenue is a universal problem.

“It’s a consumption tax – it doesn’t affect you unless you drive,” Meeks said. “Everything cost more money today than when it cost five years ago, 15 years ago, and especially 30 years ago. We can adopt a gas tax, or we can go back to the well on millage.”

Meeks added that he’s concerned with recent proposals from the state that would hamper local governments’ authority, arguing that such measures could be more difficult in the future.