The Tippecanoe County Commissioners say they want input from the mayors of Lafayette and West Lafayette before establishing a new bridge tax.
The commissioners on Monday had planned to schedule a meeting so taxpayers could comment on creation of a major bridge fund. It would pay for large bridges scheduled for replacement in the next 50 years.
But Auditor Bob Plantenga says the property tax increase may trigger state-mandated tax caps that would slightly decrease the amount of revenue for the cities of Lafayette, West Lafayette and Otterbein.
The commissioners decided to wait for more definitive numbers from the auditor so the mayors know how much revenue their cities stand to lose.
Commission President Dave Byers says he thinks city leaders will be receptive.
“Both mayors and the county are very proactive on trying to stay ahead of projects,” he says. “We don’t want another I-65 bridge to all of a sudden happen to this community, so you have to be proactive when it comes down to your infrastructure."
West Lafayette Mayor John Dennis says the community has seen what happens when bridges aren’t maintained, and he’s willing to discuss the bridge fund.
County leaders are considering a tax rate of 1 cent per $100 of assessed property valuation. Plantenga says that would cost a homeowner with a house assessed at $100,000 an extra $10 per year.
County Highway Director Opal Kuhl says the existing 3-and-a-half-cent cumulative bridge tax generates enough money to pay for annual bridge maintenance, salaries, materials and equipment, but not enough to replace or rehab a large, multi-million dollar bridge.
“We never dreamt we’d have $13 million bridges, and $5 million bridges, and those types of things,” she says. “It’s just increased so much, so for these major ones, you need something more.”
Kuhl says it costs between $300,000 and $400,000 to replace a small bridge that is less than 200 feet long.
By comparison, the county will need $14 million to replace four large bridges 20 years from now.
All totaled, Kuhl says the county must begin accumulating money to pay for 27 large bridges slated for replacement over the next 50 years.
County council president Dave Williams says the county has spent $6 million from its rainy day account to compensate for decreasing gas tax revenues, and no long-term transportation funding solution from state and federal lawmakers.
But he says the practice will stop next year to ensure the county has enough cash reserves.
“We’re at a point right now, that unless we raise taxes locally, to cover those, we’re going to have shortfalls,” he says.
Commissioner Tom Murtaugh says road, bridge and drainage improvements are an economic development investment that attracts businesses and spreads out the property tax burden.
“That’s an important investment, the biggest investment that we have for economic development, and providing that the tax rate stays as low as possible in Tippecanoe County,” he says.
County attorney Doug Masson says the commissioners must hold a public hearing before voting to create the major bridge fund. If approved, the tax rate would be set by the council when it adopts the 2017 county budget.