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Monday, March 25th, 2013

Counties could lose road funds

Legislation would send fuel sales tax to state

By Shelley Grieshop
CELINA - County engineers are battling the state for their share of funds to maintain local roads and bridges.
Pending budget legislation - House bills 35 and 59 - would divert $140 million in annual Commercial Activity Tax on fuel sales from state and local highway projects to pay state bond obligations and to fund the Ohio Department of Transportation.
"ODOT will solely use (the funds), and county, townships and municipal entities will see none of the revenue at all," Mercer County Engineer Jim Wiechart said.
The County Engineers Association of Ohio in December experienced short-lived joy when the state Supreme Court ruled CAT must be used for road and bridge projects. Previously, money derived from sales of gasoline and other motor vehicle fuels was appropriated to the state's general fund.
The engineers association seeks to have CAT revenue distributed 59 percent to ODOT, 14 percent to municipalities, 12 percent to counties, 7 percent to townships, 3.5 percent to Ohio Public Works Commission and the remaining 4.5 percent to various other agencies.
The association has pointed out that counties, townships and municipalities maintain 83 percent of roads in Ohio; the state maintains 17 percent.
"We don't think the state should miss out. We just want the funds distributed proportionally," Wiechart said.
State and federal funding cuts have put some local road and bridge projects on the back burner. The result, engineers say, can be hazardous to motorists. Ohio ranks fifth in the nation for the number of bridges classified as structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, according to the engineers association.
Wiechart said if CAT was distributed fairly, each county engineer's office in Ohio would receive about $193,000 annually.
HB 35 was passed by the House on Feb. 28 and introduced to the Senate Transportation Committee for review on March 5. HB 59 is still being reviewed by a House committee.
Allen County Engineer Timothy Piper recently told the Senate Transportation Committee that current revenues received by county engineers are not keeping up with escalating costs.
"Revenue from license plate fees has remained flat for the past four years and revenue from fuel taxes continues to go down," said Piper, who serves as president of the engineers association. "In fact, as a whole, county engineers in all 88 counties collectively received $9 million less per year from fuel taxes in 2012 than we received in 2008."
Piper said the loss in fuel funds is due to less consumption of gasoline and diesel fuel by more fuel-efficient vehicles and the sale of hybrid vehicles. Revenues will continue to decline as the federal government requires vehicles to be even more fuel efficient, he added.
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