Nevada County supervisors eye fate of gas tax, say local roads would take a hit with repeal | SierraSun.com

Nevada County supervisors eye fate of gas tax, say local roads would take a hit with repeal

No Nevada County supervisor is actively considering a local tax if the statewide 12-cent gas tax is repealed Nov. 6.

The possibility, however, is there.

The passage of Proposition 6 would repeal the statewide tax implemented by the Legislature. That tax, in effect almost a year, added 12 cents to every gallon and increased the annual cost of vehicle registration.

It's a tax that local officials say brings $3 million annually to Nevada County road projects. Losing those funds will slash the county's road maintenance budget by a third and lead supervisors to make some hard decisions.

“Truckee voters have twice approved a half-cent sales tax for road maintenance, so the rest of the county might adopt this approach once the need becomes obvious.”

— Supervisor Richard Anderson

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"I'm conservative," said Supervisor Ed Scofield, chairman of the Board of Supervisors. "I don't particularly like tax increases, but this one has a deliberate impact on the county."

A local tax remains an iffy proposition. Supervisors could cut elsewhere and forego a tax.

Supervisor Heidi Hall said it's premature to talk about a local tax.

"All of the rural areas are struggling with keeping our roads and transportation infrastructure on par," Hall said in an email. "Nevada County has done a good job, considering the insufficient funds we have had, but repealing this funding would set us back significantly."

Supervisor Dan Miller said he opposes a local tax, cautioning people to wait and see the result of the Prop 6 vote.

"If it doesn't pass, we don't have to worry about it," Miller said.

Supervisor Richard Anderson, who represents the eastern part of Nevada County, in an email said the $3 million from the gas tax is essential for keeping roads in good condition — especially affects by snow and freezing weather. He called a local tax an option, though a required two-thirds vote for passage makes it uncertain.

"That said, Truckee voters have twice approved a half-cent sales tax for road maintenance, so the rest of the county might adopt this approach once the need becomes obvious," Anderson said.

Supervisor Hank Weston said state dollars would be better spent on roads than a high-speed train.

The rail project, approved a decade ago, currently is projected to cost at least $77 billion.

High-speed rail aside, Weston said losing the gas tax money would lead to layoffs and put the county in a position where it's struggling for road funds. However, he doesn't support a local tax. He said any support for a local tax measure would have to come from the people.

"It's up to the citizens whether they want to have good roads or skate by," he said. "This money helps."

Road work

Nevada County for its 2018-19 fiscal year has an annual budget of about $9.2 million for road maintenance. About $3 million of that comes from the gas tax, said Trisha Tillotson, director of the county's Public Works Department.

The funds pay for road maintenance, which includes snow removal, vegetation maintenance and filling potholes. The county has 560 miles of road it maintains, 200 of them unpaved, she added.

Nevada County has seen its road funding decrease by $3 million over the past 10 years while construction costs have increased by almost 20 percent over the same time, Tillotson said.

Losing the gas tax would significantly impact the county's road projects.

"Any pavement restoration project would have to be delayed," Tillotson said.

County officials have a five-year road maintenance and rehabilitation plan. Key roads included in that plan are Alta Sierra Drive, Combie Road, Lime Kiln Road, McCourtney Road, Dog Bar Road and Rough and Ready Highway.

A repeal of the gas tax would halt those projects, meaning the pavement would continue to deteriorate, Tillotson said.

Miller said Tillotson and her staff are examining the possibility of losing the funding. Delaying the maintenance is one option, as Tillotson said. Another option is searching for grant money.

"Everyone's going to be looking at it," Miller said.

Another possible option is a local tax.

"I think it is an option, if that's what happens," Scofield said. "But who knows what would happen with a local tax?"

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.