4-cent per gallon fuel tax to be considered in Lake County
Lake County officials are poised to enact a 4-cents-per-gallon fuel tax to help chip away at a long, expensive to-do list of road projects.
The recommended amount is half the 8 cents per gallon allowed by state law, and was settled after hours of discussion at two county board committee meetings this week.
"I think it's a compromise approach," said Paul Frank, a board member from Highland Park who chairs the financial and administrative committee.
"People had concerns and that's where we're at," he added. "It will do a lot of good."
The full board will vote on the new tax Tuesday.
County transportation officials say $1.7 billion in projects are identified in Lake County's 2040 Transportation plan, with about $30 million a year in funds to tackle them.
Many of the larger, complicated projects are partially or unfunded. Some involve building railroad underpasses at choke points, for example, to reduce congestion and emissions and improve safety and traffic flow.
Lake County did not have state authority to impose a gas tax until 2019. The consensus is new funding from this source will advance needed road projects. Some board members questioned the potential costs to those least able to afford it in light of the continuing impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
"I can't, in my wildest dreams, think of a worse time to implement this tax," said Linda Pedersen, a board member from Antioch and vice chair of the public works, planning and transportation committee, which considered the fuel tax Wednesday.
"This is just a bad idea," added Michael Danforth, who represents the 17th district in the southwest corner of the county.
Others opted to support a lesser per-gallon amount in an apparent attempt to temper the impact and move the matter forward.
After starting the discussion at 8 cents per gallon, the public works committee on a 5-2 vote recommended 6 cents per gallon. The amount was dropped to 4 cents by the finance committee, which has the final say, and recommended by a 6-1 vote.
"I think 4 cents is the way to go at this time," said Julie Simpson, a finance committee member from Vernon Hills who made that motion. She said 4 cents would provide needed funding but have less financial impact on those paying it.
That amount would generate $8 million to $11 million per year, compared to $16 million to $22 million per year at 8 cents per gallon.
The fuel tax can be enacted any time but the state will only enforce it starting July 1 or Oct. 1 of a given year, and approvals and paperwork must be submitted by April 1.
Some board members strongly supported 8 cents per gallon to reduce congestion, help the economy, create jobs and have other benefits.
"We are trying to address a long-standing issue," said John Wasik, a public works and transportation committee member from Grayslake. "Now is the time to do it."
He emphasized the county is listening to constituents and will craft a "much better, more equitable transportation plan."
Board member Craig Taylor of Lake Zurich said the emails and calls he received after his vocal support of 8 cents per gallon made him rethink the matter.
"I can't turn my back on them," he said. "They understand the situation the county is in but this past year has been extremely difficult on everyone."
He added 8 cents per gallon is what's needed but waiting a year "until people get their feet back on the ground," wouldn't hurt.