By Louise Scott, Gary Crusader
By the year 2017, car owners in the city of Gary will be charged a wheel tax of $25 as a way to generate funds to maintain roads throughout the city.
The Gary Common Council passed the ordinance on June 15 by a 8-0 vote. Councilwoman Atty. Rebecca Wyatt (1st Dist.) was absent.
The ordinance was sponsored by Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, and it stipulates a fee for vehicles based on weight and type of vehicle. The new law comes as Merrillville, Crown Point and Munster passed similar wheel tax ordinances.
The wheel tax act authorizes common councils with populations of at least 10,000 to impose an ordinance of a real tax of no less than $5 and no more than $40 on certain classifications of vehicles. The tax must be imposed concurrently because they affect different types of vehicles. It also requires the municipal motor vehicle license wheel tax.
Under the ordinance, passenger vehicles, motorcycles and trucks that weigh less than 11,000 pounds will be charged $25 per year. The funds from this tax can be used to construct, maintain and repair streets and roads under the city’s jurisdiction.
Under the municipal wheel tax, the creation of a fund must be established under the following tax rates: buses and recreational vehicles $40 per year; semi-trailers $40 per year; and tractors, trailers and trucks each $40 per year. The uses of the fund are the same as mentioned in the surtax.
The city’s Chief of Staff Dayna Bennett said the funds will be used for road and sidewalk repairs and some road-related sewer upgrades. She said the council was asked to pass the ordinance to allow the city to have a comprehensive and long-term plan for repairing roads in the city. “This will allow us to have a decidable amount of dollars for years to come in road repair for the city.”
Dave Fagen, a member of the Operating Engineers for Local 150 and a board member of the Gary/Chicago Airport spoke to the council asking for their support of this ordinance.
“I look at this from a safety perspective and an economic growth perspective. If we are going to have economic growth, we have to have businesses that can see that they can move their goods and services to market fairly easy.”
Fagen went on to say, “Personally, I think the Gary Airport will benefit, as well as we rebuild the infrastructure here in the city of Gary. The House of Representatives have an opportunity to provide sustainable funding and they had a plan. Unfortunately, Governor Pence chose to punt and came up with a short-term solution putting the long-term requirements on cities and towns with greater than 10,000. There are matching funds available, and if this passes, can be used to match those funds. The city of Gary does need, as every other community needs [sic], as Valparaiso needs, as the city of Portage needs sustainable funding.”
Councilwoman LaVeta Sparks-Wade (6th Dist.) said she was torn in regards to the ordinance because she thinks it is irresponsible of our state legislatures to make access to state funds for paving roads in cities, towns and counties contingent on residents passing a new tax.
“We are talking about a new tax on our residents, and the only way that we can get matching funding from the state (from our $2 billon surplus) is that we impose a new tax on people who drive. I think we are in between a rock and a hard place because of the conditions of our roads. This is a very difficult decision, but in speaking with constituents in the 6th District and beyond, to impose a tax and not get anything from it is the problem. People want to see their tax dollars at work and because of the requirement that we only use this money on roads and sidewalk repairs, we will see an immediate impact.”
Councilman-at-Large President Ron Brewer said that the city’s roads are in very bad shape.
“Every citizen in this community can agree to it. We all should pay our fair share. About the maintenance, it’s not just about paving the streets, but a maintenance plan needs to be put in place at the same time to maintain the streets so that in two or three years, we are not looking at the streets that we just paved again,” he said.