One of the most common requests Churchill County receives from members of this community is for the county to do more to improve area roads and bridges. The county has long recognized it has an aging road network that needs some serious attention to maintain its 250 miles of paved roads (an additional 271 miles are unpaved).
The biggest hurdle to fixing our roads is the lack of funding for these types of projects. The cost to construct and maintain roads has increased over the years while the revenues received from the current gas tax have remained flat. This situation has made it increasingly difficult to make the necessary repairs and improvements and is no longer sustainable if we are to enjoy comfortable and safe driving in this community.
In order to respond to the community’s needs, the Churchill County Board of Commissioners recently approved a local ordinance to impose a tax on diesel fuel purchased in Churchill County in the amount of $.05 per gallon. Currently, the county only receives revenue from regular fuel purchases while no tax is charged by the county for the purchase of diesel fuel. This tax goes into effect on Feb. 1, 2021.
The imposition of this tax is authorized by Senate Bill 48 which was passed by the Nevada State Legislature during the 2019 session.
As part of its due diligence in considering the tax, the county sent out more than 500 letters to local businesses asking for potential impacts on those businesses should the tax go into effect. Four businesses responded to the request for impact statements and only two of those said it would negatively affect their business operations. Red dye diesel fuel commonly used by farmers is exempt from this tax.
All revenues received from this tax will be dedicated to the single purpose of improving roads and bridges within both the City of Fallon and Churchill County. This will include doing more resurfacing of existing roads and repaving those roads that are beyond repair.
It is anticipated that the local Regional Transportation Commission will receive approximately $299,120, or 35 percent more, in additional annual revenue from the $.05 tax. The funds will be divided according to existing distribution formulas between the county and the City of Fallon for use on their respective roads.
Gary Fowkes, Churchill County road supervisor, said his current budget includes about $400,000 annually for the purchase of materials (such as chip seal and crack seal) to repair roads.
“That $400,000 allows us to repair about 7 to 10 miles of road a year,” he explained. The additional $200,000 from the diesel tax revenues equates to a roughly 50 percent increase in his budget for purchasing road repair materials, allowing more miles of county roads to be maintained on an annual basis, he added.
Commissioner Carl Erquiaga said he realizes that no one likes the idea of new taxes, but that the revenues for the road department have not increased in his 12 years on the Board of Commissioners.
He gave the example of someone driving 20,000 miles a year in a diesel vehicle that averages 12 miles-per-gallon would use about 1,600 gallons of diesel fuel annually. “That’s about $7 more a month for diesel fuel in this example,” Erquiaga said.
He added that while the legislature allowed counties to institute this tax last year, the Board of Commissioners tabled the diesel tax earlier this year as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold. With the local economy remaining relatively stable during 2020, the commissioners felt the time was right to move forward with the tax.