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County voters asked to reinstate decades-old road sales tax; Increased property taxes likely if not renewed

February 10th, 2020 by

voteDrew County voters are being asked again to approve a one-cent sales tax that failed to pass six months ago by the very narrow margin of 14 votes.

The quorum court is bringing the matter back to the voters for two very important reasons, according to County Judge Robert Akin: “One, because passage of the tax is critical to the upkeep and maintenance of the 362 miles of county roads our people travel every day; and two, because having that sales tax revenue has kept us from having to raise property tax rates or cut county services. If the road tax isn’t renewed, raising property taxes is something the county will have to look at in the very near future,” he stated. Drew County’s millage rates are lower than the surrounding counties and the reason they haven’t had to be raised in many years is because of the road tax, Akin said.

Akin believes there was confusion on the part of many voters when the tax, which initially began being collected back in 1996, came up for its latest renewal this past summer. “We didn’t do a good job of letting the people know that this was not a new tax, it was simply a continuation of one that has been in place for more than 20 years,” Akin said. “The tax has been renewed a number of times, and the election back in June was just to extend it again, but we didn’t do enough to get the word out and some people believed it was a new tax. It’s not.”

“The people of Drew County have supported the road tax for nearly a quarter century,” Akin continued, “and I believe that’s because they see the benefits of it every day when they drive our county roads. They can tell where we are spending the money.” Akin stressed the fact that, because the tax is a sales tax and not a property tax, it is paid by everyone who shops in Drew County, not just people who live here. In fact, some 40 percent of the revenues from the tax are estimated to come from non-Drew County residents.

Having the road tax has allowed the county to stretch its limited resources in the general fund and continue to provide its normal services, Akin said. “The vast majority of taxes collected go to the various school districts, with the county required to operate on the remainder,” he explained. When the tax was renewed in 2014, he noted, the ballot measure included a provision to allow up to a quarter of the revenues collected to be used for county needs other than roads. “If the tax is not renewed, there will be consequences for more than just the roads – there may have to be cuts to law enforcement or other services,” Akin stated. “We will not be able to continue operating the way we normally have.”

Akin offered the following information regarding collection and use of the sales tax revenues:

  • From January of 2013 through December of 2019, a total of $14,971,493.12 was collected. Of that amount, $14,847,580.53 has been spent on county roads.

  • There are 228 miles of hard-surface roads in the county and 134 miles of gravel roads. Since January of 2013 the county has resurfaced approximately 84 miles of road

  • Since 2013, Drew County has spent $7,804,078.82 on asphalt and $1,033,402.24 on gravel

  • Also since 2013, the county has spent $2,296,359.71 on equipment and to purchase a much larger and better-suited building for the road department headquarters.

  • At the end of December, the three-quarter cent road tax balance in the fund dedicated exclusively to roads was $1,619,734.61. “We need to keep some money in reserves in case we have an emergency, such as a collapsed bridge or heavy rains washing out big stretches of road or causing serious drainage problems,” said Akin.

Early voting begins Tuesday, February 4, at the courthouse from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. each weekday and runs through Monday, February 10. The election will be held Tuesday, February 11, from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

 

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