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Supervisors mull transportation panel, local fuel tax

Posted on Wednesday, May 29, 2013 at 1:48 pm

MILFORD – The Caroline County Board of Supervisors is considering joining a regional transportation panel, a move that means Caroline would impose a local 2 percent fuel tax in order to generate revenue for transportation projects.

The supervisors voted 5-1 at their regular meeting on Tuesday of this week to direct the county staff to study the matter further and how much it would cost to join the Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC). Supervisor Jeff Sili cast the dissenting vote.

The PRTC members already include the counties of Prince William, Stafford and Spotsylvania and the cities of Manassas, Manassas Park and Fredericksburg.

The PRTC is a joint governmental entity formed under the State Transportation District Act of 1964. The commission provides a regional approach to the planning, development and funding of transportation systems, programs and facilities, including highway improvements, in the participating localities.

The PRTC has a 17-member board made up of 13 elected officials from the six member jurisdictions, as well as a state senator and two delegates, and one representative from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

“There is a potential we could lose some of our state funding” for roads, Sili said. “We would also be by far the smallest locality in the PRTC and the easiest to take advantage of.”

Supervisors previously considered joining the PRTC about 2005-06. Supervisor Floyd Thomas noted it would have cost the county about $49,000 to join the commission at that time. Now the cost could be as high as $65,000, he said.

“There is a negotiating process that goes into it,” said Supervisor Wayne Acors, who prompted the board to revisit the question of joining the PRTC.

The big question is how much money would Caroline County receive and that would be a complicated matter, said Sharon Carter, Caroline commissioner of revenue. According to initial estimates, the revenue generated by the 2 percent sales tax on fuel at gas stations around the county could range from $6 million to $6.6 million annually. That “ballpark” estimate is based on the sale of 87.8 million gallons of diesel and gasoline in Caroline County in 2012.

“We contacted our largest fuel dealers to get an idea of how many gallons of fuel were sold,” Carter said. The county staff based the calculation on an average price of gasoline and diesel in 2012 of $3.81 per gallon. “This is a guessing game,” she said.

When the supervisors considered joining the commission in about 2005-06, it was determined at that time that about 80-85 percent of the revenue from a local gasoline tax would be derived from traveling motorists, such as people traveling on Interstate 95, Acors said in an interview before the meeting.

Revenue from a gasoline tax could be used to help pay to widen Ladysmith Road and other projects, suggested Acors, such as paving some dirt roads, buying school buses, and the FRED regional transit system.

The revenue also could be used for bicycle trails, street signs, traffic signals, sidewalks, commuter parking lots, widening or improving major secondary roads or multi-lane roads, and establishing a commuter rail station.

A staff briefing memo prepared for the Board of Supervisors noted, “The most visible of the PRTC’s activities is the Virginia Railway Express (VRE), a commuter rail service between Fredericksburg and Manassas to Washington that is operated in partnership with the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission. Expanded public transit in Caroline County is a potential by-product of PRTC membership that would enhance mobility for the county’s residents and further the county’s economic development goals, but the most compelling reason for considering PRTC membership is the fact that it would enhance the county’s ability to construct highway improvements.”