In the past eight years, a fee you pay when renewing your plates or registering a new vehicle has added up to a whopping $27 million to be spent on roadwork.
Often, especially in the Center Grove area, that work has been on neighborhood streets, which likely would not be able to be fixed without that cash.
Since the wheel tax, which is charged to anyone who owns a vehicle, started in 2008, the county and Greenwood have collected most of the money raised, with $12 million going to the county and nearly $8 million going to Greenwood. Other local communities also get the tax dollars, with Franklin collecting the next highest at about $3.7 million. Smaller communities, such as Bargersville, Whiteland and New Whiteland, don’t crack $1 million.
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You pay the tax — $25 for cars and trucks, $15 for motorcycles and $7.50 for scooters — when you register your vehicle with the state each year. Many counties around the state have a similar tax.
Over the years, county officials have examined whether the wheel tax is still needed and each time have reapproved it because of how much it contributes to the budgets of local street departments.
Local officials said they already can’t get to all the projects they would like to do in a year because they don’t have enough funding to pay for them. But without the money collected in the wheel tax, they would be able to do even less.
“If we did not have the wheel tax, we would be in serious trouble,” county highway director Luke Mastin said.
Every year, the county receives about $1.5 million from the wheel tax, and $900,000 of that is spent on road work. That is about the same as what the county gets from the state each year for road projects, so the wheel tax basically doubles what can be spent on roads, Mastin said.
Franklin collects about $500,000 per year, which makes up about one-fourth of the money spent on projects, salaries, equipment and supplies, street commissioner Brett Jones said.
In Greenwood, which receives about $1 million each year in the wheel tax, the money is a big help in annual work to repair and repave roads, city engineer Mark Richards said. This year, the city is able to spend about $2 million on road work, he said.
The money has helped the county pay for larger projects with a higher price tag, such as the roundabout at County Road 144 and Whiteland Road and a connector road between Worthsville Road and Clark School Road, east of Greenwood, which will be part of an east-west route through the county.
The county has been able to borrow money for those projects, which cost millions, and then pay it back with wheel tax collections, allowing more work to be done at once, Mastin said.
But one of the key areas the money has helped with is neighborhood streets.
Before the wheel tax, residents — especially in the Center Grove area — complained that their neighborhood streets were crumbling and nothing was being done to fix them. Often, the county had little to no money to fix subdivision streets, because much of that funding was being used on other county roads, Mastin said.
Now, the county does that work annually, spending about $250,000 on subdivision street repairs.
“Because we have the wheel tax, now we are able to annually do subdivision street maintenance in our program, which we couldn’t before,” Mastin said.
But not all roads that need repairs can be fixed each year, local officials said.
For example, last year Greenwood spent about $1.2 million on paving projects but needed to do a total of about $6.5 million in work, Richards said.
“Some of those we just can’t do as soon as we would like,” he said.
Every year, the county also is not able to fix roads that need work, Mastin said.
Both Greenwood and the county use a rating system to determine which roads should be fixed and when.
Sometimes, two roads rate exactly the same but the government cannot afford to do both. Officials must decide which roads should get the work that year, hope that the other roads either stay in the same condition or don’t get significantly worse, and then come back to fix them another year.
Their decisions are based on how much traffic uses the street, whether it connects to a subdivision entrance and whether it is near other roads that need to be fixed. If so, that can save the county money, since the contractor would not need to move equipment to another project site, costing time and money, Mastin said.
For example, the county is working on multiple roads in the Brentridge Estates neighborhood this year, and those reasons would have factored into the decision, he said.
“Ideally, we would like to address them all, but there are more miles than what we can do in a year,” Mastin said.