Nobody likes taxes.
Nobody likes bumpy roads.
And if a municipality collects those taxes and fails to make immediate repairs to those bumpy roads, well, some people don’t like that, either.
Sometimes, local government can’t win in the court of public opinion.
Milton enacted a $30 wheel tax last November. Residents pay the fee whenever they renew their vehicle registrations, City Administrator Al Hulick said.
The city council unanimously approved the tax to counter dwindling state transportation aid and pay for preventative road maintenance. Perhaps the smooth roads would prevent complaints from Milton residents.
However, in a Sound Off comment published June 4 in The Gazette, one caller blasted Milton for its slow progress in using wheel tax funds.
Never mind that the city began collecting the fee in May. This person wanted comprehensive road repair—now.
“I live in the city of Milton, so I get to pay one of the most expensive wheel taxes in our state’s history,” read the Sound Off comment. “As a result, though, I don’t see a flurry of road construction repairing the crumbling streets in Milton. So, Milton mayor, what are you doing with that money?”
The caller made a reference to Mayor Anissa Welch’s gender before closing with a reminder about the wheel tax’s purpose.
“Remember what that money is for and fix the roads,” the caller said.
The city hasn’t forgotten. But the roughly $20,000 collected so far is not enough to initiate repairs, Hulick said.
The fee collection has a one-month delay. Money received in May is from vehicle registrations renewed in April, Hulick said.
Because Milton will record a partial collection this year, it earmarked funds only for seal-coating work. Those repairs could begin in September or October, near the end of construction season, he said.
A full year’s worth of collections should net the city about $120,000. The state Department of Transportation initially estimated $160,000, but sometimes registrations with Milton addresses aren’t in the city of Milton, Hulick said.
“We anticipated that, and the DOT can only go based on numbers they have on registration,” he said. “Many other communities explained that number is often overstated based on how vehicles are registered, and it takes a year or two for that system to clean itself out.”
The wheel tax is designed to combat state-imposed levy limits. Municipalities are having a hard time raising cash for road repairs because revenues aren’t keeping up with costs, Hulick said.
Milton could have made road repairs more quickly after collecting the tax, but doing so would have been fiscally irresponsible or forced the city to reduce other services, he said.
Hulick believes those angry about the pace of street maintenance tend to distrust local government. Road projects will be done once the city collects enough money, he said.
“We can’t spend money we don’t have yet, but we know that money will come,” he said. “Once it does, we’ll spend it responsibly.”