Gas Prices

Drivers in Ohio pay a 38.5 cents per gallon gas tax when stopping at gas stations like this Super Quik in Waverly.

WAVERLY- According to the National Association of Counties, Pike County is set to receive $5.4 million through the American Rescue Plan. How those funds are spent comes down eligibility requirements and action taken by the Pike County Commissioners.

During Thursday’s commissioners meeting, County Engineer Denny Salisbury asked if a portion of those funds could go towards his office.

While highway improvements are believed to be ineligible, lost forms of public sector revenue are listed in the U.S. Department of the Treasury website as eligible uses. The latter would apply to the engineer’s office, Salisbury said.

“My revenue was devastated to the tune of somewhere between $250,000 and $500,000,” he said, noting Spring 2020 as the months where the loss really took hold.

During those months, more people worked and studied from home leading to less time on the roads. Less time on the roads, in turn, meant the state’s increased gas tax would not have as much of a boost as expected.

House Bill 62, passed in April 2019, added 10.5 cents per gallon to Ohio’s gas tax and 19.5 cents per gallon of diesel — bringing those totals to 38.5 cents and 47 cents respectively.

While Ohio Department of Transportation Director Jack Marchbanks believed the tax prevented a more severe shortfall, a shortfall happened both at the state and county level.

“There’s revenue that would have came in that just did not happen and it’s not recoverable,” Salisbury said, other county engineers that he has spoken with saying they also have lost revenue. “People aren’t going to go drive those days just for the heck of it.”

In February, Marchbanks told the Ohio House Finance Committee that ODOT anticipates a revenue reduction of $333 million over the next two years.

“(T)he COVID-19 outbreak caused a significant drop in traffic volumes in the state as people stayed home to slow the spread of the virus,” his proponent testimony reads from a Feb. 9 committee session. “At one point in the spring, traffic volume had declined nearly 50% compared to 2019.”

Commissioner Jerry Miller said he would not be opposed to using some of the county’s APRA funds for the shortfall, but the commissioners are still weighing their options.

Those options, as listed on the U.S. Department of the Treasury website, include:

  • Covering public health expenditures
  • Assisting those harmed economically by the public health emergency
  • Replace lost public sector revenue
  • Provide premium pay for essential workers
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure

While the verbiage is out there, the real specifics are what Miller and the commissioners are continuing to look into.

“Understanding what we can do with the money is difficult,” he said.

The $5.4 million set for Pike County makes up less than 1% of the $2.3 billion allocated to Ohio counties. More than $65 billion is included in the bill for counties across the country.

ARPA became effective on March 11 after President Joe Biden signed the bill into law and following majority support in both the U.S. House and U.S. Senate.

Among those not voting in favor of the bill was Republican Rep. Brad Wenstrup, whose congressional district includes Pike County. Addressing his fellow congress members, Wenstrup said his opposition came since only 9% of the bill went towards COVID-19 relief and Republican interests were ignored in the process.

“I would agree with my colleagues — it’s historic. And, I would agree with my colleagues — it’s consequential. There is no doubt about it,” he said, where all Republicans voted against the legislation. “But the next generation of Americans is not going to be thankful.”

Contact Patrick Keck at pkeck@newswatchman.com or by phone at 740-947-2149, ext. 300431 and follow him on Twitter @pkeckreporter.

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