The Butler County commissioners are poised to implement a $5 vehicle tax that they say will bring thousands of dollars into our county to complete projects on our roads.
The $5 fee itself- which would be added to the vehicle registrations of almost every county resident- is expected to bring in an estimated face value of $900,000, but the mandate would also lead to state dollars and be used as leverage for obtaining a $25 million federal grant.
The commissioners are getting ready to apply for a BUILD grant, which stands for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development, created by the Trump administration. The board believes their grant application will be more competitive if they show the county has “skin in the game,” which the $5 fee will do.
The fee will also initiate a $2 million state transportation grant from PennDOT, which will be expiring soon.
“If we don’t go through this window now, it’s going to close,” Commissioner Leslie Osche said Wednesday, referencing the timing of PennDOT’s grant and the county’s BUILD application.
All three commissioners recognize the frustrations of taxpayers weary with another fee, but believe the county is missing out on substantial state money due to its absence from transportation bill Act 89…and this fee will be a way to recoup that.
State lawmakers representing Butler County voted against Act 89 in 2013, which resulted in Butler not receiving the same amount of state transportation funding that was given to other counties who voted in favor of it.
“I get it,” Commissioner Kim Geyer said Wednesday. “Taxpayers see that gas prices are high. The cost of vehicle registrations keep going up. And the bridge near their house still isn’t fixed. I under stand their frustrations. But we’re not getting our fair share. Our return on investment. This is difficult but it’s a way for our county to rectify our system.”
This isn’t the first time the county board has considered this $5 vehicle fee. It came before them in May 2017, but all three voted against it.
“The ($5 fee) plan last year was half-baked,” Commissioner Kevin Boozel said Tuesday.
Boozel went on to explain the several safeguards now in place surrounding the fee, which helped him now decide to support it. The safeguards include prohibiting the increase over $5; eliminating it after 10 years; exempting retirees who earn less than $19,500 per year; and making public annual reports of how the money was spent.
“We need to re-frame the conversation,” he said. “This is not taking more dollars from you, it’s an investment to get more of your money back.”
If the $25 million BUILD grant falls through, Boozel said he will be the first to “scream his head off” to have the fee repealed.
Several transportation projects will be able to be completed with these funds, the board says, and not just in the southern corridor of the county, although the biggest project that could get done would be the Route 228 improvement project. Other work includes several bridge projects and help for townships and boroughs that don’t have the funds to complete much-needed road and infrastructure projects.
The commissioners will vote on the $5 fee at their meeting on Wednesday, July 18 at 10 a.m. on the first floor of the Butler County government center.