Stark County, its cities, villages and townships would receive about $8.3 million more to pay for road work if the Ohio General Assembly approves Gov. Mike DeWine's proposal to hike the state's gas tax by 18 cents a gallon.
Local officials are lining up to back the increase from 28 cents a gallon to 46 cents a gallon on July 1.
"I definitely support it," said Canton City Engineer Dan Moeglin. "We've tried to do as much as we can with what we have. ... But at some point we can't do what we did back in 2005 when (the gas tax) was (last) raised. The roads are deteriorating."
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"I don't really care for it, but if I'm going down the road and I'm not busting tires and wheels, I can live with that," said Chris Schreffler, 59, of Canton. "Bust up tire and wheels, that's more than 18 cents."
"I think they should leave the (gas tax rate) alone or lower it," he said. "They aren't increasing my paycheck like that."
Dale Mohr, 56, of Canton, suggested an alternative: Totally legalizing marijuana and taxing sales of it.
The state last increased the gas tax in 2005, the last of three increases. The federal gas tax has been 18.4 cents a gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon for diesel fuel since 1993.
The Ohio Constitution says gas tax revenue can only be used to fund the construction or improvement of roads, highways and bridges as well as the Ohio Highway Patrol.
If the gas tax increases by 18 cents a gallon to 46 cents a gallon, it would raise $1.2 billion a year, according to the Ohio Legislative Service Commission. It would cost $72 a year more for a motorist who drives 12,000 miles a year in a vehicle that averages 30 miles per gallon.
DeWine has said with stagnating fuel tax revenue due in part to more fuel efficient vehicles, the state needs an additional $1.5 billion a year to keep up on the maintenance of roads. His proposal also includes automatically increasing the gas tax rate each year commensurate with the increase in the consumer price index. He said the state can't afford to borrow more money.
Though he's expressed openness to the idea, DeWine has not yet proposed a user tax for people who drive electric, fuel cell or hybrid vehicles, which use much less gasoline.
The state keeps about 60 percent of state gas tax revenue while counties, cities, townships and villages get about 40 percent.
"I'm just now looking at it," he wrote in a recent text message. "I know we need more money for highways, but I want to know how big the need is and how the additional revenue will fill those needs."
If the increase passes, his office would see revenue increase from $2.4 million to $4.2 million a year. The office gets about $12 million a year in annual license plate or motor vehicle registration fees.
Bennett, who oversees 410 miles of county roads, said that would allow his office to resurface and rehab more miles. But he hasn't yet analyzed which ones yet.
"We like to refer to it as a user fee. Not a tax," said Bennett. "The only people paying it are the ones using the roads."
Bennett and Moeglin said the rising cost of road labor, gravel and equipment has eaten away at a flat gas tax revenue source. Bennett said the cost of paving a mile of two-lane road cost about $100,000 to $110,000 about 10 years ago. It's now about $140,000.
Moeglin said voters' passage last May of an increase in the city income tax to 2.5 percent from 2 percent has provided Canton an additional $1.5 million a year for road work. It's allowed the city to spend $2.5 million to $3 million a year on resurfacing roads, an increase from about $1 million to $1.5 million.
"Even with that increase, we're still not going to be able to keep up with the deterioration rate of the road. With this proposed gas tax increase, that would be a huge influx that should allow us to really make the improvements in the city streets. ... It's desperately needed. It really is."
If DeWine's gas tax hike becomes law, ODOT says Canton would get $3.85 million a year, an increase of about $1.62 million.
"It'll give us the flexibility that we haven't had the last couple of years to pave more roads," Moeglin said.
The city engineer estimates the city needs about $15 million to catch up road work that needs to be done even with its use more durable resurfacing materials and preventative maintenance such as sealing street cracks. And then it would cost $4 million to $5 million a year to maintain roads.
Many of the city's major streets such as Tuscarawas Street W and 13th Street NW west of Interstate 77 have deteriorating bases that date back to the 19th century or early 20th century.
Some are made of brick, and asphalt doesn't stick well to them. They have improper drainage systems so water infiltrates the asphalt. Each time, the water freezes and then thaws, it creates pot holes.
Moeglin said drastic temperature swings in winter have accelerated the deterioration. Any new layer of asphalt, which Moeglin referred to as "Band-aids," will quickly deteriorate.
He said the best long-term solution is to tear up roads and rebuild them and their bases from scratch, with proper drainage systems. But that would be extremely expensive. Just to entirely rebuild less than a mile stretch of 38th Street in 2017 cost the city about $2.7 million.
Stark County Commissioner Richard Regula hopes that a higher gas tax would free up funds for the eastward extension of the U.S. Route 30 expressway.
And he said while a gas tax increase does costs motorists more money, the damage to motorists' cars due to roads in poor condition will end up costing them more.
Perry Township Trustee Doug Haines does not view the additional $273,000 a year the gas tax increase would generate for his township as a panacea.
He said he has no position on the tax but the extra money would be enough to pave an extra three miles of road a year.
"That's not going to make a difference," Haines said, adding that the township has 146 miles of road but can only pave six miles per year. The township wants to pave 12 to 15 miles a year so it can do them all every 10 years.
The trustees, in addition to seeking approval of a new police levy, are seeking voters' approval in May of a new five-year, 5-mill road levy.
Plain Township Trustee Scott Haws said that while he would like his township to get the more than $328,000 a year to repave its roads under a higher gas tax, he said it would impact his employer who operates a fleet of vehicles.
A gas tax increase is "a necessary evil but from a residents' perspective ... they're getting (hit) left and right with taxes."
"I'm really torn over it," Haws said. "You let infrastructure go, you're going to have to spend even more money just not to maintain and upkeep but do full-blown replacement."
Reach Repository writer Robert Wang at (330) 580-8327 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @rwangREP.
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