Gas tax may lead to smoother roads
Churchill County Question 1 proposes increasing taxes paid at the pump by sending those dollars to the road infrastructure.
The Question puts forth a fuel tax increase based on road construction cost inflation and wouldn’t exceed a rate of three cents per gallon over the next 10 years.
County Comptroller Alan Kalt said the ballot question asks voters to consider giving the Board of Churchill County Commissioners additional limited taxing authority to address the road infrastructure deficit building up over the past 10 years.
He reported Road Department funding peaked in Fiscal Year 2006 at $2,425,495 compared to FY 2016 at $2,086,506 or 86 percent of the amount a decade ago. He also reported some construction materials have gone up over 120 percent in the last 11 years.
If voter-approved, the Board would be required to impose an ordinance that indexes fuel tax annually through 2026; the Board may choose a rate less than the three-cent maximum. (Fuel tax indexing means tying vehicle gas taxes to inflation rates at a fixed amount per gallon, not a percentage of the total price of an item as with sales tax.)
The three cents per gallon maximum rate would result in a consumer paying $22.50 annually, or $1.88 per month, if one drives an average of 15,000 miles per year in a vehicle earning 20 miles per gallon, purchasing 750 gallons total in a year.
“There is not enough gas tax revenues to repair and maintain the existing road and bridge inventory in Churchill County,” Kalt said. “Delays in road maintenance will be more costly as we lose the road base and will have to rebuild those roads rather than provide crack sealing and chip seal overlays.”
He also mentioned vehicle damage, for example, that results in repairing vehicle alignment.
An additional Road Department challenge to prioritizing work includes vehicles becoming more fuel-efficient — using less gas thus generating less tax dollars to go toward road requirements.
Also, Nevada counties currently don’t receive a share of the diesel tax despite 32 percent of heavy truck traffic being on local roads, according to the Nevada Highway Users Coalition. Indexing would return a portion of the federal diesel tax to the county where it was purchased.
The federal fuel tax hasn’t been increased since 1993, and the state’s hasn’t gone up since 1992. However, the Question proposes an annual increase each year in the coming decade.
Arguments against passage include how Nevadans presently pay over 50 cents per gallon of fuel in taxes and the gas market is a volatile one.
Fuel tax indexing isn’t always viewed as a long-term response to transportation needs as well as sometimes seen as unfair. For example, electric vehicle drivers may take to the roads as often as fuel-based vehicle owners but will be paying less for their road usage.
Moreover, Nevada has a reputation for being a tax-friendly state that attracts businesses.
Churchill’s road system includes 191.31 miles of paved roads and 254.79 miles of unpaved as well as over 100 bridges and culverts. The Road Department is a full-service establishment with 15 full-time employees. They pave, chip-seal, crack seal, blade and maintain roads. They also build bridges, replace culverts and rebuild washed out roads. Additionally the department operates a gravel plant to make gravel, chips and other materials used in road construction.