Editor, Times-Union:
Last week, the County Council passed the $25 surtax and $40 wheel tax to raise about $1.77 million per year for the Kosciusko County Highway Department to repair our roads. This is yet another band-aid on a severed artery. It is a defensive reaction to a situation that needs bold, ou tof-the-box thinking. What follows is not something that is fun to talk about, but I find it more palatable than implementing (or keeping) yet another tax.
The first of three ideas I am about to propose is not something fun, easy or made lightly. This is a solution to a problem, and it is more difficult than proposing a new tax (believe it or not), but since we find ourselves in the situation we are in, all options must be discussed. I am not delusional in thinking that any of these will be easy, but why not try?
It is argued that this "wheel tax" (a phrase often used to describe both taxes) was necessary to make up for the loss of revenue generated by the gas tax due to the decrease in demand by higher prices and more efficient vehicles. The gas tax is a flawed formula for maintaining state and local highways is a flawed tax because it is a tax per unit, not a percentage of the price. With inflation, the $0.18 per gallon in 2003 has the buying power of a little more than $0.12 (a 30 percent drop in value)! Meanwhile, the costs of oil based materials like fuel for the county highway trucks and oil and tar in the asphalt have outpaced inflation. The $0.18/gallon gas tax is not sustainable, and neither is the $25 surtax and $40 wheel tax. If we do not find a real, true financial solution, we will be adding more and more taxes to keep up with inflation.
Within the ordinance, my fellow councilmen included language that states that "in the event that another source for road maintenance equal to or greater than that provided under this Ordinance is made available, then this Ordinance may be rescinded…" which is really just stating the obvious. However, I propose that if we were to be proactive, to attack the problem, we could find our own source to replace the $1.77 million taken by this wheel tax.
Currently a Kosciusko County employee's work week is 37 hours. Some work more than that without additional pay (because they are awesome), but the current policy is a 37-hour work week. My proposal is that we change that to a 40-hour work week to keep up with the times.
Over 300 county employees working 3 more hours a week equals 900 hours/week. 900 hours x 50 work-weeks a year (2 weeks are paid vacation) equals 45,000 hours. 45,000 hours a year is the equivalent of 22.5 employees at the countywide average of about $35,000 is $787,500. Add in the county's cost of taxes and benefits and this number jumps to $1,174,950. Simply by asking each county employee to work about 30 minutes more a day, the county could eliminate 22.5 positions and potentially save almost $1.2 million alone. I can't tell you if it has ever happened or how long it has been, but if I were to guess, Kosciusko County has never laid an employee off for payroll reasons. There is 100 percent job security working for
Kosciusko, something that almost 0 percent of the rest of us enjoy. All I am proposing is less than 30 more minutes a day from our fantastic county employees.
Jon Fussle
Kosciusko County Councilman