Local option gas tax could fix road problems

6:43 PM, Jun 7, 2013   |    comments
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(WBIR-Crossville) Recent rains and flooding caused serious problems to roadways in Cumberland County, adding to the financial issues the Road Commission is already facing. Local leaders said a local option gas tax could be the answer.

Scott Blaylock, the Cumberland County road superintendent, recently attended a Cumberland County Commission Budget Committee meeting, asking the commission for more funding.

"We are strapped for cash, and with the rains that we received, coming in from April to now, has been, exceeded over 15 inches, and we weren't prepared for washouts like that. We've had hundreds of roads that have washed out, major or minor," said Scott Blaylock.

Blaylock said in the month of May, unexpected repairs totaled $50,000 that was not in the budget. He said rising costs also add to the problem.

"The oil that we use for tar and chipping, in 2002, was 56 cents a gallon. (In) 2012, it was $2.33 cents a gallon," said Blaylock. "Hot mix asphalt that we use for paving was $22 a ton, and now it's $79 a ton."

The road commission's revenue comes from a state gas tax that has not changed since 1989.

"A lot of people think, well, as high as fuel is, we should get plenty of money. But it doesn't work that way. And state fuel tax has not been increased since 1989," said Blaylock.

While costs increase and revenues stay flat or decrease, Blaylock said he decided to ask the county for money.

"A lot of things have to start at the local level. And 67 counties out of 95 counties in the state of Tennessee receive some kind of revenue from the county, whether it be wheel tax, property tax, or whatever. We do not."

Blaylock said the county did not want to increase property tax, but State Representative Cameron Sexton suggested a local option gas tax instead.

"It's still early, still waiting. It was an idea that was floated. As I told them in the meeting, I'm not sure if it makes sense or if it's doable. But as the representative of Cumberland County, I would listen to their concerns and talk to TDOT about it," said Sexton.

Sexton said it would work similar to a local sales tax or local hotel tax. The state would have to okay it, then the county commission would have to approve it. County voters would then have to give their stamp of approval.

"It's an interesting idea, I will give it that, but it doesn't automatically mean a tax increase I mean when you take something to the voters and have them vote on it, and I think that's a good thing in the end," said Sexton.

Several drivers said while they have noticed the road problems, they do not want to pay for repairs when they fill up at the pump.

The county here does a good job, but they just work with what they got," said Jerry Edwards, a Cumberland County resident. "But I don't like it, don't like it. Pay enough taxes as it is."

"Our gas is already so high, we just can't hardly afford to go where we need to go now, and I don't think we can afford a gas tax," said Danny Dixon, a local resident.

If the local option gas tax does not happen, Blaylock said something permanent needs to be done.

"We can't keep up when the revenues don't match the rising costs," said Blaylock. "Everyone always puts roads last on the list of importance, but yet everyone needs them."

A section of Bear Creek Road was washed out and has been barricaded since May. Blaylock said it will stay that way until the road commission receives more funding, since the repairs would cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

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