As the state legislature continues to develop a transportation budget to help maintain roads and bridges across Ohio, one of the major funding sources for county engineers could increase.
On March 7, the Ohio House passed a transportation budget bill, 71-27, expected to increase the gas tax by 10.7 cents a gallon over two years and the diesel tax by 20 cents a gallon over three years, effective Oct. 1.
Gov. Mike DeWine proposed increasing the current rate of 28 cents a gallon tax by 18 cents a gallon to address the need for road repairs and construction across the state.
“We would like to acknowledge and thank Governor Mike DeWine for his thoughtful and fast response in recommending a transportation budget solution for Ohio’s future,” a statement from the Ohio Council of County Officials (OCCO) said. “Governor DeWine has a clear understanding the transportation funding needs for state and local governments. OCCO encourages the state legislature to work with Governor DeWine to ensure that proper transportation funding for state and local governments is included within the final transportation budget.”
The transportation budget bill now heads to the Ohio Senate for consideration.
The proposed increase to the gas tax follows warnings from Ohio Department of Transportation officials who say the state will face a crisis if funding for road maintenance and infrastructure is not increased.
Locally, Champaign County Engineer Stephen McCall said his office is responsible for the maintenance of almost 240 miles in the county. The engineer’s office is also responsible for the maintenance of 213 bridges and almost 2,300 culverts.
McCall said addressing the road projects last year cost almost $1.9 million while bridge and culvert projects cost around $340,000.
According to McCall’s annual report, road projects and maintenance accounted for 36.9 percent of 2018 expenditures while bridge and culvert projects accounted for 6.7 percent. Road projects and maintenance were the highest expenditure in 2018 costing more than payroll, equipment and fleet operation, employee benefits and office and operations.
A portion of the funding for the work the engineer’s office performs comes from the 28-cent-per-gallon state gas tax equaling 3.2 cents per gallon. This amount is based on the total number of gallons sold in Ohio and divided equally among the 88 counties. The annual report states $2,416,403.95 was received from this revenue source in 2018 – which was the largest revenue source.
A deficit of over $400,000 in 2018 was due to a delay in a paving project on Upper Valley Pike. The project was scheduled for the end of 2017 but when it took place last year, the funding was carried over from the previous year.
Other sources of funding include a license plate fee, which generated over $1.3 million last year, and the permissive license fee, which generated $548,782.41 for the county last year.
“We’ve been talking for years that the cost of inflation and our material costs has increased and our amount we’ve had has basically been flat,” McCall said on the state gas tax. “2003 was the last time they passed the approval when they did a 2-cent increase.”
Regarding Champaign County, McCall said the county does not receive funding directly from ODOT and has to apply through the Ohio Public Works Commission.
“Directly from ODOT, we don’t receive money,” McCall said. “But it’s the money that’s set aside for these programs from the gas tax which then everybody can apply for. ODOT ends up managing and overseeing that money to make sure it gets distributed correctly so it’s actually from the gas tax the way it was set up where our payment comes to us and then we take care of it.
“Because of our size we are really limited. Because of how much traffic we have on the roads it’s hard to compare to Columbus or Franklin County. A lot of times when they’re looking at the number of crashes or how many trucks you have on the road and how much traffic you have on the road or whether or not you’re going to get funding, we just can’t compete with the urbanized areas so we have to come up with different means — whether or not we’re using the chip and seal products or basically a different level of service of what has to be expected as far as we’re not going to have four lane roads through our county.”
McCall noted money for federal projects is also administered by ODOT. This year, a federal project the engineer’s office will work on is a bridge rehabilitation on Old Troy Pike. McCall said the project is estimated to cost between $500,000 and $600,000.
McCall said if more funding was available through OPWC or through federal funds, his office would be able to address more paving projects and making roads safer.
“The last time I was looking at the numbers, if we were going to pave every road in the county, make it hot mix and then to maintain it, we were short $2 million a year so that’s significant,” McCall said. “I’m one of the smaller counties as far as the number of roads or number of bridges. When you get to a lot of the counties they have twice as much in miles and twice as many bridges, yet they have the same budget that I do because the gas tax is split evenly between all the counties.”