Barnesville Village Council approves license plate fee

T-L Photo/LENNY WITTENBROOK Barnesville Village Council members discuss a new $5 license plate fee before voting on the measure. From left Mayor Dale Bunting, council President Brad Hudson and members Jamie Betts and Les Tickhill with Village Administrator Roger Deal.

BARNESVILLE — Residents should expect to pay more for their license plates in 2019 now that Village Council has approved an ordinance imposing an additional $5 fee on vehicle registrations.

Council voted unanimously Monday to approve the levy in anticipation that Belmont County commissioners will pass three similar levies at the county level following a public hearing Wednesday. If that does not happen, Barnesville council members have said they will rescind their new fee.

Monday was the third reading of the ordinance to pass the levy, and council did not act on an emergency basis nor suspend any rules.

Council first discussed the fees, called permissive taxes, on April 16. Village Solicitor Marlin Harper informed officials that Belmont County was considering levying additional license plate fees to raise funds for county road and bridge construction and maintenance. Harper said the village would be able to collect the money for those purposes instead of the county if council passed levies first.

Members first opposed the additional fees.

But they eventually agreed that the fees would serve their residents better if commissioners pass the levies they are proposing.

That sentiment remained true Monday, but council members still questioned how the fee structure works. In particular, they wanted to make sure village fees would not be in addition to county fees. They discussed the fact that counties, townships, villages and cities can pass permissive taxes. However, some permissive taxes cancel each other out between the county level and lower taxing authorities, and the lower authority — in this case, Barnesville — would get the money instead of it going into county coffers.

“I didn’t want to put a tax on and then have the county put another tax on,” said Council President Brad Hudson.

“This would be one that the county cannot collect from Barnesville residents,” Solicitor Marlin Harper responded.

Village Administrator Roger Deal has estimated that Barnesville will receive $10,000 more each year for road and bridge improvements as a result of the new fee, if council chooses to keep it once the county takes its action. He said the village already has two such levies in place; they generate about $20,000 per year.

He also said there are limits on ways that the village can use those funds. They can be used for road and bridge work, but the funds cannot be used to pave dead-end streets. Any street that is paved with these funds also must lead to a county road.

At first glance, it would appear that all Belmont County residents would pay $15 more per year for Ohio vehicle registrations if commissioners approve county Lively’s request to add three new $5 increments to the county fee structure. But the situation is more complicated than that.

Information provided by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles indicates that the price of license plates will vary depending on where in the county a resident lives. Chapter 4504 of Ohio Revised Code also allows townships and incorporated villages and cities to pass taxes on vehicle registrations. The state provides nine different $5 levies under the permissive tax code, but the county cannot collect certain $5 fees if a township or municipal taxing district has passed levies that cancel out those the county can pass.

The county has had one of its available $5 levies in place since the late 1960s, Lively said. All Belmont County residents pay at least $5 more than the state base rates of $34.50 for passenger cars and $49.50 for trucks.

Last week, the county commission had the first of two public hearings it must hold to pass the three additional levies. The board will hold the second public hearing at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at the courthouse in St. Clairsville. Belmont County Commissioner J.P. Dutton said the board would consider passing the levies after that hearing.

Lively estimates the county would collect about $819,000 more each year if all three levies pass.

He said his department’s budget is about $5 million annually, about half of which comes from a gasoline tax and about half from license plate fees. The engineer’s office is responsible for maintaining all county roads.

When the state made a new $5 increment available to counties last year, it also put a cap of five on the number of levies that can be enacted within a taxing district beginning in January 2019. The previous cap was four levies.

The state provides one levy to each taxing body that it can pass without interfering with other levies, according to information from the BMV. That means any given taxing district can have as much as a $25 upcharge on vehicle license plates, which would bring the total to $59.50 for cars and $74.50 for trucks.

Jennifer Compston-Strough and Matt Saxton contributed to this report.