License fee hike proposal discussed

By Mike Sever Record-Courier staff writer Published:

If the fees are approved, car licenses would increase from around $30 to around $40 and truck fees would increase from the around $40 to the $50 range, depending on where the vehicles are registered. Because of how the fees are imposed, some county residents might see a $5 per vehicle increase while others could pay $10 more per vehicle.

While the increased fees would raise $868,900 a year more, Marozzi said it is only about 17 percent of the total needed to do the job.

Marozzi laid out his view of the county road situation Tuesday afternoon at the first of two public hearings on the fees. The second hearing will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the county Administration Building, 449 S. Meridian St. in Ravenna.

Marozzi said he has $1.326 million a year for capital improvements but could use $5.127 million to get roads repaved and bridges rebuilt.

"I'll have to agree with you," Marozzi said of his envisioned rebuilding program. "It's an astronomical number. This does not produce a Cadillac highway system. It produces a nice Oldsmobile" with no extra safety improvements included in the program.

The meeting drew only two members of the public in addition to county commissioners, members of Marozzi's staff, and the press. One man, Gary Zurschmit of Brimfield, asked if the new revenues would be "just a Band-Aid" to the road problems.

Marozzi disagreed. "It would be a significant help, and there are no other sources of income out there," he said.

The county imposed one $5 permissive fee in 1989 and has two more state-authorized fees of $5 each to consider. The first, available to counties and municipalities, would generate $343,900 annually for the county. Portage's cities and several villages already enacted their portion of the fee since it was passed by the state in 1988, Marozzi said.

The second fee would raise $525,000 for the county and townships would get another $103,200 annually to split among them based on the number of registered vehicles.

If commissioners approve both fees, Marozzi would have an additional $868,900 annually to help maintain the county's 372 miles of road and 181 bridges. For comparison, the state maintains 199 miles of road in the county and townships maintain a total 382 miles or an average of 21 miles each, Marozzi said.

Of the 372 miles of county road, Marozzi said 142 miles are in poor condition, 100 miles are fair, and 129 miles are in good condition. Roads in poor condition are structurally deficient and are able to carry half the state's 40 ton legal load limit. Also, 41 percent are dangerously narrower than 20 feet wide.

In the past decade the county's repaving schedule has slipped, Marozzi said. In 1988 county roads were repaved once every 16 years. In the past nine years the county has paved an average of 14.3 miles per year, meaning, Marozzi said, "Every 26 years, I'll pave the road. And once you pass 15 years, you're patching the patches." The cycle climbs to 43 years if only the last five years are averaged, he said.

Of the county's 181 bridges, 65 are rated as poor, serious or critical. Another 32 have load limits less than 40 tons and a dozen are single lane only, and three are closed. The Crackel Road bridge in Aurora is due to reopen in about a month and the Ravenna Road Bridge in Franklin Township is scheduled for replacement starting in April, Marozzi noted.

Federal grants and state Issue 2 funds have allowed replacement of 23 bridges, he said, but the county still has 80 bridges that are more than 50 years old.

"I don't mean to imply the roof is caving in, but if action isn't taken now, a lot of bridges will be critical in five years," Marozzi said.

A bit more than 61 percent of the engineer's budget is from license plate fees while a share of the state gasoline tax provides another 25.8 percent. The current permissive fee adds 8.4 percent to the budget. The engineer's department receives no property tax or sales tax revenues, Marozzi noted.

He said two-thirds of Ohio's counties have enacted at least some portion of the allowable fees and a fifth have the full $15 permitted. All were enacted by resolution of commissioners; none by general election.

The proposal has drawn support and opposition. The county township association voted in July to support the proposed $10 permissive fee. Aurora, which enacted its $5 per license permissive fee some time ago and has about 10 county bridges including the closed Crackel Road span, voted in late September to oppose the county fee. Commissioners have also received petitions generally opposing increased license fees.

Some people are also connecting the fee increase with the state's E-

Check emissions test. The prospect of testing has driven some county

residents to illegally register their cars out of the county, causing an

estimated $75,000 loss in registration fees. Marozzi said his proposal

is about fixing roads and bridges and is not connected to the revenue

loss.

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