Taxes — a word that will cause just about anybody to cringe, raise blood pressure, and possibly incite a round of other four letter words not suitable for this paper.
I say this a bit tongue in cheek, but please know that I do not take taxation lightly and am writing this article because Yankton County, as many may have already heard, is proposing a change to add an additional $1 to our current wheel tax ordinance.
Our current wheel tax is set at $4 per wheel on up to a maximum of four wheels and we are looking to increase that to $5. Essentially, citizens currently pay $16 per year for every car, pickup, trailer, etc with four wheels. The new implementation would raise this by $4 per vehicle per year. If you own two vehicles, your taxes effectively will be raised by $8 and so on. You get the picture.
Some may think of the adage, “You cannot tax your way into prosperity,” in which I agree. But I also know that you CAN save your way into poverty, which is one reason our roads are in the poor condition we see today. We need to make the right investments when they present themselves, and I would like to offer readers a bit of an explanation as to why I am in support of this wheel tax increase.
First and foremost, it will have a positive impact on the competitive bid process the state has laid out for its Bridge Improvement Grants (BIG). This state program allows counties to apply for assistance on bridge repair and replacement projects. All applications have criteria entered into a formula and the highest scores are allocated the funding. Some of the criteria include condition of the bridge, how close the nearest alternate route would be if the bridge closed, etc. Some of those things we really have no control of, but there are several factors that we do have influence over. Having a “shovel ready” plan increases our score and we have executed plans to begin engineering work on some bridges.
Another lever we have is to increase the cost share from the county. For instance some of our recent bridge work was awarded an 80/20% cost match from the state, the state paying the larger portion. If dollars available in the program were tight and another county were looking at a large project, we could increase our share to a 30/70% or 50/50% split and “buy” points on our application. This is something we may need to consider down the road but is not in our plan just yet. This option is potentially very costly when looking at a $5 million bridge replacement.
A third means to increase our scores is to have a $5 wheel tax. Any amount from $1-5 will add to our score, but $5 will give us the maximum opportunity to have a successful application. Simply put, the state is willing to help those who help themselves when it comes to roads. We are in competition with other counties to utilize a finite pool of money that is offered by the state. I see the $1 increase as having potential for a good return on our investment and we could leave millions of dollars on the table if we do not take steps to maximize our BIG scores.
The secondary reason that I support this increase is simple: every dollar we can spend on maintaining our roads today will save $7 in future costs (this figure is given to us from LTAP). It has been estimated that this increase will net $113,000 (give or take) dollars that are allocated to our Highway Department. While every little bit helps, this sum increases our current highway budget by just over 2%. It will not be enough to identify any large projects for reconstruction, bridge replacement, etc. This amount would not even cover the asphalt costs for one mile of road. I say this to try to reiterate that primary reason for support is really the BIG score stipulations and not to be careless with taxpayers dollars. This is the lowest cost method of increasing our chances for future bridge repair and replacement.
I am confident that this action will be brought to a petition and public vote as has been done in the recent past, but I urge readers to view this not just as a money grab but as I see it: a solid return on investment.