The Washington County Board of Commissioners, during a workshop on April 13, considered a proposal to increase the county’s transportation, use and excise taxes.
The board had already examined the proposal for almost a year in 2019, but suspended the discussion as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic occurred in March 2020.
The tax, commonly referred to as the local option sales tax, allows local governments to impose a sales and use tax of up to 0.5% and a vehicle excise tax of up to $ 20 per vehicle. Washington County currently has a sales and use tax of 0.25% and an automobile excise tax of $ 20. Fifty-one other counties in the state have similar taxes. The county council must hold a public hearing to raise the tax.
The income generated by the tax can be used for roads or bridges, and for capital and operating costs of transit projects.
The board considered a proposal to increase sales tax to 0.5% for local county options and keep excise tax at $ 20. The board also reviewed a list of projects that would benefit from the increased sales tax. If the tax were increased, it would be expected to raise $ 21 million in 2022, as opposed to the $ 10.8 million the tax raised in 2020.
Previously, the county was part of the Counties Transit Improvement Board, which introduced a sales and use tax of 0.25% and an excise tax of $ 20 per vehicle. That board was dissolved in 2017, and Washington County retained taxes and approved its use.
Government funding for transportation is not keeping pace with the cost of building roads and bridges, and revenues from vehicle lease tax and bicycle tax are not increasing. As Washington County’s population grows, the county has a responsibility to expand the highways to accommodate that growth and rebuild transportation hubs to improve safety for the traveling public.
General road maintenance is also falling behind, and the road surface on county roads is deteriorating faster than there are resources to repair. Other road projects in the county have lagged.
If the board decides to go ahead with the tax hike, it would hold a public hearing and make a decision later that year. The county must report its decision to the Treasury Department before the tax can be collected.