Decatur Mayor Favors Countywide Gas Tax For Street Repairs
The mayor of Decatur says using a motor fuel tax to repair crumbling streets is merely a topic of discussion now, and doesn’t expect a city council vote on such a plan anytime soon.
But Mike McElroy said a countywide tax might be a better approach than a city tax anyway. He said with a city tax, motorists could avoid a higher price at the pump by driving to neighboring cities:
“I could drive to Mt. Zion, or I could drive to Forsyth, whatever," he said. "And you’re not really helping anything. We have an incredible amount of people who drive into Decatur to work every day, and then drive out of Decatur. Well, they’re using those roads. And I can’t think of any fair way for a tax if those who are using the roads and bridges are the ones paying the tax.”
McElroy suggests a countywide gas tax in Macon County of between 1 to 4 cents.
City officials have said about $6-million in repairs are needed around Decatur streets.
McElroy said pavement problems around Decatur are fairly widespread, and not contained to one area of the city. He said street conditions have slowly worsened, with minimal work performed over the past decade.
A vote on a gas tax before the Decatur City Council hasn’t been scheduled. A countywide gas tax would require approval of the Macon County Board, as well as the state legislature.
Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing's plan to tax gasoline for road improvements will be brought to a vote next week.
She calls the 2-cent a gallon motor fuel tax 'a modest proposal' - contending it's more expensive to not maintain streets than to maintain them. The ordinance also calls for an automatic escalator of point-4 cents per gallon each July for three years, unless the city council suspends it. The idea passed on a 4 to 3 vote by the Urbana City Council Monday night - so a formal vote can be held next Monday. One of three 'no' votes came from Alderman Brandon Bowersox, who says he likes the idea... just not the timing of it.
"I still feel like the economy has people in such a hard place just keeping their families afloat." said Bowersox. "It's a really hard time to implement a new tax. And I guess if it were up to me alone, I'd say let's wait 6 to 12 months, and look at this as part of next year's budget."
The four tenths of a cent escalator was also a concern for Alderwoman Diane Marlin, who says the tax should be limited to road repair. Mayor Prussing says the funds may be targeted for future road projects, like traffic roundabouts.
Alderman and supporter Charlie Smyth says city leaders would identify exactly what projects the tax would be used for. He says starting out slowly, but working up to a tax of 3-point-2 cents after three years... is a good amount of money to start making an impact.
"After that, it just should simply be part of the way we do the rest of our business." said Smyth. "..which is an annual review of all of our fees and permits."
Mayor Prussing says the local fund was necessary since the state motor fuel tax has been constant for 20 years, while the cost of road repairs has more than doubled. She also contends that cities like Danville haven't driven away motorists after enacting the tax. Besides Smyth, others backing the proposal were Robert Lewis, Dennis Roberts, and David Gehrig. Bowersox, Marlin, and Heather Stevenson opposed the plan.