Dear editor,
Last week, I voted no on the proposed wheel tax and surtax.  I voted no for many reasons, but the three main reasons are because it is a new tax, the 20-year sunset provision was not short enough, and it is not equitable.
First and foremost, it is a new tax. This is pretty straightforward. I oppose new taxes and I oppose raising taxes.  If a family or business has to live within their means, government ought to as well.
The 20-year sunset provision is not short enough.  The original proposal did not have a sunset provision and there were councilmen who were opposed to the sunset provision in principal. To council President Sanders' credit, he compromised by setting a 20-year sunset, although I initially floated a two to five year sunset in our joint council/commissioners meeting. Since then, I have amended my position to require a one or two year sunset provision, and the proposed ordinance is just nowhere near where I would need it to be in order to vote for it.  Taxes are never lowered or repealed unless there is a sunset provision built in. Then they must be evaluated, justified, and renewed with great discomfort and fanfare for the council.
Finally, the tax is not equitable. The surtax (which applies to automobiles/vehicles below 11,000 lbs) was set at $25 and the wheel tax (which applies to any other vehicle subject to excise tax in the state of Indiana) was set at $40. That means that regardless of how much you drive or how much your vehicle wears down the roads, the most you'll pay is $40 and the least is $25. Think of it this way; Granny, drives 10 miles/week going to church and the grocery store, will pay $25/year while the 80,000 lb semi driving hundreds of miles/week will pay $40/year. Which one is wearing down the roads more? Which one ought to pay more?
How did Kosciusko County find herself in this position?  The reasons are long and varied, and I write about them in more detail on my blog at JonFussle.com.  However, the main (and overly simplified) reasons are bureaucratic waste, Indianapolis diverting funds from their intended use, costs significantly increasing, and less gas being sold (because of higher prices and more efficient vehicles).  All these factors conspire together to create a perfect storm where the highway department just sees less money every year.  Kosciusko County has made up for that decrease by using money from the Rainy Day Fund and our Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT).  Those funds cannot sustain that burden beyond 2016.
Our highway department has done a phenomenal job despite the substantial decrease, but they cannot sustain this for much longer.  Ideally, the County Highway should be chip-sealing every 5-10 years and repaving every 20-30 years. At today's pace, the county will chip-seal a road on average of every 26 years and repave a road on average of once every 300 years!
Implementing new (or raising existing) taxes should not be the first or second thing we do.  It ought to be the very last thing we do when everything else has been done to fix the problem.  If and when we find ourselves there, the tax ought to be equitable (fair), temporary, and permanent corrective action should be taken to fix the problem.
CCD, EDIT, and COIT were all implemented with the intent to repeal them.  But they never were. In fact, they're higher today than they have ever been.
- Jon Fussle
Warsaw, via email