Friday, September 19, 2014

Association of counties urges fuel tax increase

Increased revenue would fund road maintenance

Express Staff Writer

    At its annual conference in Moscow this week, the Idaho Association of Counties passed a resolution urging the Legislature to increase the state fuel tax to help fund road and bridge maintenance.
    The condition of roads and bridges have been deteriorating at both the state and county levels as maintenance costs have risen while federal and state fuel taxes have remained stagnant for the past two decades. Blaine County’s Road and Bridge Department has been funded almost entirely by fuel taxes since the mid-1990s, when the county commissioners passed a resolution prohibiting the use of general fund money for that purpose.
    County Operations Director Char Nelson has said the department needs about $2 million more each year to bring the county’s roads out of a downward spiral into further deterioration and increased costs of repair.
    Legislation to raise the state tax was introduced in the 2014 session but not acted on. Blaine county voters narrowly defeated a proposed two-year, $5.24 million property tax levy in May.
    The resolution, introduced by Blaine County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg, a member of the association’s Transportation Committee, was passed unanimously. It asks for incremental increases in both the fuel tax and vehicle registration fees.
    Among the dozen other resolutions passed by the association this week was one asking that the president of the United States not use the federal Antiquities Act to designate national monuments in Idaho without consultation with and agreement from local stakeholders. The resolution cited a proposed monument in the Boulder-White Clouds as an example.
    Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen said in an interview that he and the other two Blaine County commissioners supported the resolution because it was consistent with the county’s own resolution supporting a Boulder-White Clouds National Monument.
A third resolution passed by the Association of Counties that could affect Blaine County was one urging the Legislature to more narrowly define a property tax exemption for assets held by nonprofit hospitals. The resolution asked that the exemption apply only to the hospitals themselves, and not to associated entities. Schoen said the Blaine County commissioners voted against the resolution due to uncertainty about how it would apply to St. Luke’s Clinic in Hailey.
    “I’m very concerned about the availability of health care in rural counties like ours, so I think we have to be very, very careful about it,” he said.
    Passage of association resolutions requires two-thirds approval by all elected officials attending the conference.

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