County’s cities have wheel tax option

Local cities and the county have a new option to increase the taxes you pay annually when you register your vehicle, but officials said they aren’t planning to make you pay more, for now.

Cities that have a population of more than 10,000 people were given the choice to adopt their own wheel tax that would bring in more money to help pay for roadwork. In Johnson County, only Greenwood and Franklin have a population large enough to meet the guidelines. County councils also have the option of doubling the amount collected in an existing wheel tax.

The current wheel tax, which adds $15 to $40 to registration fees on a trailer or vehicle, brings in more than $3.5 million per year, which is divided among each local government based on road miles. Local governments also get road funding from the state each year, but officials repeatedly have said that money is not enough to pay for all the projects that are needed.

In response, a new road funding plan approved by state lawmakers would allow certain communities to add their own wheel tax, ranging from $7.50 to $25.

For now, local officials said they don’t want to add a new tax, or want more options, such as the possibility of replacing the wheel tax with a fuel tax that would charge more to the people who use the roads most.

In Greenwood, infrastructure projects, such as road improvements, are funded with money collected from tax-increment financing, or TIF, districts, so there is no need for additional funding, city council president Mike Campbell said.

He doesn’t support the idea of a new tax, but he would be open to discussing the new tax to hear what Greenwood residents had to say, he said.

“I think we would get a lot of push-back from residents. I haven’t heard anyone suggest we need more money for road improvements,” Campbell said.

Two other council members, Chuck Landon and Ron Bates, said they are opposed to adding a new tax.

“I have a problem with increasing taxes — I’ll never even give it any thought,” Landon said.

Franklin is managing what funds it has well and getting important road projects done, so an additional tax just isn’t needed, council member Steve Barnett said.

In recent years, Franklin has completed improvements to roads, alleys and streets, and those projects need to continue, but adding a new tax might not be the way to do it, Franklin council member Richard Wertz said.

“We definitely need our roads in good shape, I just don’t know if a new tax is the way to do it,” Wertz said.

Franklin council member Joe Ault hasn’t ruled out the possibility of a city wheel tax, but wants to learn more about it and talk with residents to see if they would support it, he said. Mayor Joe McGuinness wants to learn more about the tax and talk with council members, he said.

Local governments can always have a reason to increase taxes and seek more money, but that doesn’t mean officials need to raise taxes, county council member Brian Walker said.

For the county, state lawmakers gave officials the option of doubling the tax they currently charge. Doubling, or even increasing the wheel tax, isn’t necessary, county council member James Ison said.

The ability to add a wheel tax for cities like Greenwood and Franklin is a good opportunity, said Matthew Greller, executive director of the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns. Residents probably won’t like the idea of a new tax, but it would help with funding, Greller said. Greller is an advocate of the wheel tax because it allows cities and towns to have control over how they receive road funding, he said.

“Roads are paramount to economic success, and making sure they’re in good condition takes money, and sometimes that comes in the form of a user fee or tax increase,” Greller said. “The wheel tax is just a small piece of the puzzle, but it does make a difference getting projects completed.”

At a glance

Every resident in Johnson County pays an annual wheel tax when registering their vehicle, or buying license plates.

What you pay now: In addition to the cost of your license plate and registration, you currently pay $15 for motorcycles and light trailers, and $40 for trucks, buses, motor homes and large trailers.

What’s changing: Cities and towns with a population of 10,000 or more now have the option to adopt their own wheel tax on vehicle registrations that would collect money for road improvement projects. Any new local wheel tax would be paid in addition to the county tax already in place.

How much: The tax would range from an additional $7.50 to $25

Who: Greenwood and Franklin can add the tax, based on population sizes. Johnson County could also double its current tax.

Who decides: The decision to enact the tax is up to local city and county councils.

Corey Elliot is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2719.