County prepares for higher wheel, sur taxes and doubled buggy license fees

LaGrange County Council gave a positive recommendation Monday for a plan that will raise the county wheel tax and sur tax to the maximum levels allowed by the state.

The LaGrange County Commissioners are expected to rule on the issue at an upcoming meeting. The consideration of higher fees for LaGrange County drivers coincides with a proposed ordinance to raise the cost of license plates for Amish buggies.

There are 18,700 passenger vehicles, 4,600 trucks, 1,200 motorcycles and 8,500 trailers under 9,000 pounds registered in the county. At this time, the county sur tax brings in $325,000 at a $10 minimum. By raising that to the state maximum $50, the county and its towns will realize a $1.3 million increase per year, with the funds dedicated to road work.

For larger vehicles charged a wheel tax, the rate would go up to an $80 flat rate, providing an increase of $392,000 from the current $131,000.

In all, the proposed new fee schedule would total $1.75 million for road construction, reconstruction and maintenance, with LaGrange County receiving $1.6 million and the rest distributed to Shipshewana, Topeka, Wolcottville and the town of LaGrange.

The last time a change was made to the county wheel tax and sur tax was 2014. County attorney Kurt Bachman provided the council with a draft of an ordinance that would ratify the change. The council did not formally vote on the ordinance but all council members at the meeting indicated support for the increases. It must be passed by September for the charges to kick in next year.

The county’s financial advisor Jeff Peters explained that road work has “outpaced revenue sources” and that most Hoosier municipalities are actively discussing raising sur taxes and wheel taxes to provide road maintenance.

Council Vice President Jim Young noted it is a “big step” but added that local people consistently voice concern about the state of the LaGrange County roads.

LaGrange County Commissioner Peter Cook said he is confident the buggy license increase will occur. The commissioners have been working on the process since August, networking with the township trustees that collect the buggy plate fees. Along with doubling the fee for a license plate to $200 per buggy this year, the cost would go up by $10 every year for 10 years, making a buggy license $300 in 2033.

The LaGrange County Highway Department has a 2023 plan in place that uses $5.5 million in Economic Development Income Tax (EDIT); it concentrates on berms and culverts to prepare for future paving, said county Engineer Tharon Morgan. On Monday, Morgan asked for an additional $5.5 million for continued repairs in 2024; the council will look into procuring the funds from EDIT and American Rescue Plan Act funds. It will be discussed at the next meeting on Feb. 13 at 8:30 a.m. in the LaGrange County Office Building, 114 W. Michigan St., LaGrange.

Over the next two years, the $11 million requested by the highway department is expected to improve 11% of the county’s roads.

By June, a 10-year highway plan is expected to be complete. Tinisha Weigelt and Brad Stump of BF&S civil engineering firm, Fort Wayne, explained the 10-year plan to the council Monday and how it will help government officials determine what roads to address.

In other business Monday, the county council approved increased fees for filing tax abatements. Those charges are now $2,000, up from $1,000 set in the early 2000s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *