There are a little more than a handful of roads that make up the 18.2 miles of the Washington Special Road District.

And the bulk of the road district funding comes from taxes paid by city of Washington residents, City Administrator Darren Lamb pointed out Monday.

According to Lamb, the recent push to examine the need of the special road districts has shined a light on those numbers.

“I don’t think anybody necessarily knew it was that much,” he said at Monday’s Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee meeting. 

“Six to seven roads — 18.2 miles — are being funded by the residents of the city,” Lamb added. “That is the lion’s share of the budget.”

Franklin County Presiding Commissioner Tim Brinker publicly resurrected talks of dissolving special road districts at the Sept. 19 Franklin County Transportation meeting.

Brinker has stated that there no longer is the necessity there once was for the districts, and the districts create an additional layer of government for maintaining roads.

The Washington Special Road District covers about 80 percent of the city limits. Tax dollars from those residents go to both the city and road district.

In 2018, the Washington Special Road District collected $745,050 in real estate and property taxes. Of that, $666,959 was from residents inside the city limits.

“I don’t think most people in the city limits know that,” Lamb said.

In addition, 60 percent of the county road and bridge property tax paid by Washington property owners goes to the road district, 25 percent is for the city and 15 percent goes to the county.

When asked by Washington Area Highway Transportation Committee member William Miller Sr. if the city is taking an “official stance” on the call to investigate road districts and possibly move toward eliminating them, Lamb said the city is only looking at numbers, for now.

“Now we are just studying facts and finding out,” he said. “These people are paying for 18.2 (miles of road) outside the city limit.”

During Monday’s meeting, Brinker updated the Washington transportation committee on the discussions he has had about dissolving the districts. 

He explained that special road districts were effective decades ago when they were set up to build and maintain roads from farms to markets. That is no longer the case.

Brinker further contended that the road projects that fall in three governmental entities, such as Bluff Road, would be expedited 

His comments were met by criticism by Washington Special Road District Commissioner Ed Fischer, who stated it is a mistake to eliminate the districts, adding it is “even a mistake to think about it.”

“This is not a tribunal,” Brinker replied. “I am doing my job.”

Other Districts

There are three other special road districts in Franklin County — Sullivan, Union and New Haven.

The Sullivan and New Haven districts encompass the entire city limits of those municipalities. 

The Union Special Road District encompasses roughly 60 percent of the city limits and consists of 21 miles of roads.  

The Sullivan Special Road District maintains about 18 miles of road and the New Haven Special Road District is the smallest, covering just 2 miles of roads. 

About 25 percent of the total taxes collected for the Franklin County Road and Bridge Fund go to maintain just 60 miles of roads, all of which are in special road districts. 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.

Franklin County collects a half-cent sales tax, which generates about $6 million annually into the county road and bridge fund.

Dissolution

According to state statute, the county commission could dissolve the special road districts if specific criteria is met — including not electing officers or not performing duties.

State statutes outline other ways for road districts to dissolve. It may involve a vote of the people in the district.

If Franklin County were to absorb the four special road districts and the taxes disbursed to them annually, it would essentially have an extra $1 million to use on the 60 new miles of county roads, equating to $16,698 per new mile.

In 2018 the county would have collected roughly $10,331,750 in personal property and real estate taxes for the road and bridge fund without the existence of the four road districts. That would equate to $12,360 available per mile at 860 miles. 

The Washington Special Road District receives the most tax money from the county, which is more than double what the Union district receives based on the size of the road district.

People who live on road district roads but outside of the city limits pay 80 percent of their road and bridge taxes to the road district and 20 percent goes to the county.

Residents who do not live within a city or on a road district road pay 100 percent of their road and bridge taxes to the county.