Washington County officials discuss Ohio gas tax

MARIETTA — Washington County Engineer Roger Wright informed the commissioners on Thursday how the new Ohio gas tax will benefit road and bridge repairs in the county.

“The gas tax is very important to rural counties, but it’s not going to solve all our problems,” he said.

Wright said the county won’t receive any of the extra funds from the tax, which starts in July, until sometime in the fourth quarter of the year. He said the delay is due to getting the administrative processes in place in order for the state to dole out the funds. He said each county in the state will receive the same funds regardless of the roads within their borders. After a calculation by the state, Wright said each county should receive $1.5 million a year from the tax.

The new funds will help with the renovation and repair of the 72 of 378 bridges in the county coming up on their 40-year anniversary of being built, Wright said. But budget cuts throughout Wright’s tenure as engineer have given him a budget that is $600,000 less than when he started, so Wright said the tax will only give him an extra $900,000 more than the first budget he had to work with.

Commissioner President David White raised concerns about potential guidelines on spending the new gas tax funds.

“Will you be able to spend it at your discretion?” he asked Wright.

Wright confirmed there are no restrictions on the funds, and he is able to spend them as he sees fit.

He also told commissioners he thinks the 1 percent permissive sales tax distribution agreement for the county needs to be revisited in order for his department to properly maintain and repair roads and bridges. According to Wright’s budget report, the permissive sales tax was originally passed in 1984 and gave 85 percent of funds collected to the engineer’s office for use in building and maintaining county roads and bridges, while giving 15 percent to the county’s general fund. But the report says four years later the agreement changed to the general fund receiving 35 percent of the funds, with the engineer’s cut dropping to 65 percent. Wright said this began a trend that decreased the funding to his department from the tax to its current rate of 4 percent. Wright said his department needs at least 9 percent of the permissive tax income in order to put his funding back into the $700,000 range that along with the new gas tax, would match his highest budget received.

With his department battling 160 road slips over the last year and facing 72 bridges requiring significant maintenance, Wright said every dollar he can get from the commissioners is desperately needed.

“We’re facing an uphill battle,” he said.

The commissioners said they will need to discuss Wright’s budget in greater detail before making any decisions on the agreement.

In other business discussed, Commissioner Ron Feathers proposed an increase in fees for using the county’s sewer system.

“Last year we had $986,000 in revenue, and we spent $1.27 million,” he said.

Feathers cited a new inflow and filtration system near Belpre and a new $270,000 lift station in the works at Teri Lane in Little Hocking as being part of the reason behind the proposed rate hike.

“I recommend between a $3 and $5 a month per customer increase,” Feathers said.

Feathers also said he hopes the rate increase would enable the county to put aside up to $200,000 in case of emergencies that may occur with the sewer system. He said there is currently no money in the bank for such an incident. The commissioners said they will think about Feathers’ proposal and return to it sometime in the next few weeks.

On Thursday the commissioners also picked three engineering firms to interview for the planning of the Devola sewer project. They are Pickering Associates of Parkersburg, ADR and Associates of Newark and WSP Global’s office in Columbus.

The commissioners said they picked the three out of five respondents to request for qualifications published at the beginning of the year. They said they chose the three due to proximity, history of working on similar projects and their community outreach for planning and developing projects. Once a firm is chosen by the commissioners within the next few weeks, they along with Roger Wright will look to the people of Devola for their input.

“That’s when will start to have public involvement,” said Wright.

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