Butler County communities can charge $5 more for vehicle licenses. Why aren’t they?

The new gas tax hike will bring an extra $7 million to Butler County communities that struggle to keep up with poor pavement.
The new gas tax hike will bring an extra $7 million to Butler County communities that struggle to keep up with poor pavement.

Few Butler County jurisdictions are installing a $5 motor vehicle registration tax that was authorized in the state’s latest transportation bill..

When the legislature passed the bill that increased the gas tax, it included a provision that allows local jurisdictions to increase taxes for vehicle registration.

The Ohio Department of Transportation estimated Butler County jurisdictions will receive about $7.1 million annually from the new 10.5-cent-per-gallon gas tax hike. The county will reap the biggest reward next year, with about $1.5 million more in fuel tax funding. The city of Hamilton is next with about $1.2 million in extra funding.

Hamilton is the only jurisdiction to enact legislation approving the new tax thus far, but Liberty and Ross townships are considering it. The city expects to collect about $300,000 annually from the tax, but the funds can only be used to fix roads, according to Brandon Saurber, director of neighborhoods.

RELATED: Ohio’s new gas tax: More revenue means Butler County communities are changing plans

“Repair of our streets is critical to the continued growth of Hamilton,” Saurber said.

Liberty Twp. Trustee Christine Matacic said the township could consider the registration tax to aid its road fund, which is projected to be $35,000 in the red by 2022.

Comments on a recent Journal-News Facebook post about the issue were strong on both side.

“This is ridiculous. The gas tax already went up for road maintenance. Stop increasing taxes for residents,” one person wrote.

“It’s five dollars, just do it,” another wrote.

Matacic said the township has about 150 miles of roads and cul-de-sacs that need to be maintained and they are adding about a mile per year. She said the additional gas tax will only generate about $300,000 and road projects are “not nickels and dimes anymore, it takes big bucks.” For years, the general fund has had to supplement the road budget.

“We’ve been managing but there is going to come a time as we look out over the future budget, we’re going to be at a deficit for roads,” Matacic said. “And we have to be responsible by taking a look at all the options and this is one of the options.

Ross Twp. Administrator Bob Bass said the trustees there will hold two public hearing on the issue in January. He said doubling the tax to $10 would generate roughly $80,000 annually. He said if the trustees approve the measure, the township would not begin collecting until 2021.

Trenton’s 3.9-mill road levy request failed last month by a vote of 67 to 33 percent. The city needs $1 million per year for five years to bring the roads up to acceptable levels. The gas tax hike is estimated to bring in $264,000, and city council also pledged an estimated $90,000 from the original $5 motor vehicle license fees for paving.

Finance Director Mike Engel said the city has discussed the extra tax and it might come up again, but he doesn’t think it would be popular with taxpayers.

“It’s one of those things, in my opinion only, but the voters kind of expressed their opinion, they are saying they didn’t want a levy, maybe they don’t want more taxes,” Engel said. “It’s one of those things we have to be sensitive to it and have some open discussions.”

The local governments don’t need residents’ approval to impose the added tax, but public hearings are required. Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens would need the commissioners’ approval to impose the new fee, but he won’t be asking.

“I feel some resistance, they have no interest in doing it,” Wilkens said. “That’s my sidebar opinion, I haven’t asked them so I don’t know that for a fact, but I don’t see them jumping up telling me to put it on.”

Officials in the other jurisdictions like Middletown, West Chester Twp. and others have discussed the fee but are not actively considering it.

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