Montgomery County commissioners are expected to approve about $2.5 million in road resurfacing projects today.
The move comes as state legislators prepare for the new debate over a gas tax increase proposed by Gov. Mike DeWine to improve crumbling roadways, one that lawmakers from his own party chipped away at.
DeWine wants to increase Ohio’s current 28-cents-per-gallon tax by 18 cents beginning July 1 and adjust it annually for inflation. The tax on diesel fuel under his plan would also go up 18 cents a gallon. All told, the governor’s proposal would raise $1.2 billion.
“This is all about the safety of the people of the state of Ohio,” DeWine said. “We put forward a conservative bill that really does the bare minimum. It will keep our roads in decent condition; it will allow us to do a modest amount of safety work in dangerous intersections all over the state of Ohio; and it will allow us to do a modest amount of new construction.”
Last week the Ohio Senate a passed a proposal increasing the tax 6 cents a gallon — dramatically less than requested by the governor and lower than a House-passed measure.
There is already big hole in the transportation budget because of past borrowing, said Montgomery County Engineer Paul Gruner, and the Senate version won’t keep pace with rising costs, a major factor in how state got into trouble to begin with.
“What the governor really asked for was what the need was for ODOT and locals,” said Gruner. “With the further cuts in the Senate version, they are eating into their operating and maintenance budget, so we’ll see no improvement to road conditions with that.”
Montgomery County needs about 50 percent more on top of an annual $16 million road and bridge budget to make necessary repairs and maintain the infrastructure, said Gruner.
The $2.5 million in resurfacing spending Montgomery County commissioners will vote on today stretches just 18.3 miles. Seven county roads and seven township roads will get repaired. The pavement replacements span from a tenth of a mile to a 6.05-mile section of Preble County Line Road from the German Twp. line to U.S. 35.
The work will begin about the middle of May, Gruner estimated, and should end by Aug. 31.
Montgomery County has 541 bridges and 320 miles of roadway, much in substandard condition, according to the engineer’s office.
Currently, each of Ohio’s 88 counties gets $2.4 million a year from the state, said John Honeck, senior policy analyst with the County Commissioners Association of Ohio. The Senate’s proposed 6-cent increase would provide each county another $760,000: “Not as much as we’d been hoping for.”
The lack of state transportation funding pressured Montgomery County to raise one fee last year to help pay for roads and bridges, officials said.
Commissioners approved a $5 vehicle registration fee increase that took effect Jan. 1 and is expected to generate $2 million annually. The county should start seeing the first of that revenue come in yet this month or in April, Gruner said.
Montgomery County Commission President Debbie Lieberman said she is appreciative the governor is trying to take some pressure off counties by upping the gas tax.
“We (counties) don’t want to have to continue to raise fees and taxes,” she said.
A conference committee will likely attempt to find a compromise between the competing gas tax bills, but the outcome will be nowhere near DeWine’s proposal, and money will have to be found elsewhere, said State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg.
“The debate is not over whether roads and bridges should be funded, it’s about how should they should be funded,” said Antani, who voted against the budget because of the tax increase.
“We’re probably not going to get to the governor’s level, regardless, so there’s still going to be a gap. Without general revenue fund dollars, there’s just no way to fill that gap,” he said.