Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker says the existence of special road districts in the county is antiquated and is in reality a double taxation on residents who live in them.
Brinker first broached the subject at the Franklin County Transportation meeting Thursday in Union.
There are four special road districts operating in the county, affecting Washington, Sullivan, New Haven and Union.
Those respective districts encompass the entire city limits of both New Haven and Sullivan.
The Washington Special Road District covers about 80 percent of the city limits and the Union Special Road District encompasses roughly 60 percent of the city limits.
“These districts were established in the early 1900s to help rural residents get items from farm to market,” Brinker said. “They filled a role in between city and county services of roads. Today the county or municipalities should be responsible for the roads and infrastructure.”
Real estate and personal property taxes are collected each year by Franklin County and then allotted to the various taxing districts in which a resident lives.
Those taxes are then used by the county and individual municipalities for road, bridge and other infrastructure projects.
For several years, Franklin County as a whole collects a half-cent sales tax, which generates about $6 million annually exclusively into the county road and bridge fund.
“I need some justification for the existence of these special road districts,” Brinker said. “It’s just another level of government I don’t think we need.”
Brinker also questions, since entire large cities lie within the special road district boundaries, does the money collected by the road district actually benefit the city residents who are already paying a tax to that municipality for roads and infrastructure?
Brinker cited the ongoing resurfacing of Bluff Road both inside and outside of Washington as an example of unneeded redundancy.
Franklin County, the city of Washington and the Washington Special Road District are responsible for separate sections of the rural and commercial road, which runs outside of Washington.
“It is taking three separate entities to get this one road paved and maintained,” Brinker said. “A lot has changed since these districts formed and unless there is something outstanding, it’s hard to justify them today.”
In 2018, the Washington Special Road District collected $745,050 in real estate and property taxes. Of that, $666,959 was from residents inside city limits.
Brinker explained the elimination of the special road districts would not necessarily lower residents’ taxes, but would ensure they weren’t being taxed twice, or three times for the same services.
“Not everybody that contributes, benefits from the special road districts,” Brinker said. “Residents are suffering from tax redundancy and the money they (road districts) collect could be used to serve the residents better.”
Taxes currently collected by the special road districts would simply stay in the county coffers and be used to maintain the special road district roads that would be absorbed by either Franklin County or neighboring municipalities.
The Union Special Road District consists of 21 miles of roads. The Washington and Sullivan special road districts only maintain about 18 miles of road each. The New Haven Special Road District is the smallest, covering just 2 miles of roads.
In 2014 Brinker, then serving as First District commissioner, said there may be benefits if the county takes over the roads currently maintained by four special road districts.
“I am not opposed to it provided that the funding is available to make sure we can maintain and keep those roads up that we would inherit as a result of that,” Brinker said.
At that time, leaders of three of the four special road districts agreed the redundancy was unnecessary.
On Thursday, Brinker asked members of the Union and Washington Special Road District commissions to bring the idea of dissolution to their members.
“It’s not in the county’s hands to determine,” he said, adding, “It will be interesting to see what those entities determine if they even choose to do anything.”