Commissioners approve diesel tax
Churchill County commissioners unanimously approved Thursday to increase the local diesel fuel tax by 5 cents that will go toward the maintenance of county roads.
The new ordinance affects diesel sold within the county but exempts certain diesel fuel for taxation such as, for example, equipment used for farming. The earliest adoption date is Feb. 1.
In a letter sent to business owners in January, County Manager Jim Barbee said residents wanted the county to improve the area’s aging roads and bridges. Barbee said lack of funding has prevented the county from moving forward on these types of projects. Consequently, Barbee said future improvements would require the passage of an ordinance to raise taxes on diesel fuel. In his letter, the county also asked for input from county residents.
“All revenue received from this tax will be dedicated to the single purpose of improving roads and bridges within both the city of Fallon and Churchill County,” Barbee explained. “This will include doing more resurfacing of existing roads and repaving those roads that are beyond repair.”
One resident, Kid McCoy, questioned the tax increase. Commission Chairman Pete Olsen said the gas tax has been flat for more than a decade.
“Diesel doesn’t pay anything to the county,” Olsen said, adding the county doesn’t have other taxes to pay for repairs or improvements.
Geoff Knell, another resident, asked commissioners to wait for two years before enacting the increase.
“People are hurting,” he said, adding an increase would cause a domino effect. “It’s not the time.”
Gary Fowkes, the county’s road manager, said he doesn’t like taxes any more than other resident but he said the county’s road system of 250 miles of paved roads and 250 miles of dirt need attention.
Commissioner Bus Scharmann, who has served as chairman of the Highway Commission, said during the past eight years, he’s been on the county commission, labor and material costs have increased but the budget remains the same.
Commissioner Carl Erquiaga echoed Scharmann’s concerns.
“We certainly have been conservative on our taxes,” he said.
Erquiaga, who owns a diesel truck, said he can give up something to cover the tax increase.
“I don’t like raising taxes, but it has been a long time coming,” Olsen added.
Concerns, though, were raised about the county’s unemployment and financial outlook. Olsen said unemployment jumped from 3.8% to 5.8% because of the coronavirus pandemic. Comptroller Sherry Wideman said taxable sales for September, the last reporting month, is up 11.5% over the same time one year ago.
Olsen said timing counts, and it was time for the county to move forward because a COVID-19 vaccine is nearing approval.