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Special committee formed to study lake wheel tax

PRESENTATION – Jan Ostiguy makes her presentation to county commissioners Monday night concerning the removal of the $10-wheel tax for the Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreational Lake. In the background is her husband Cyril Ostiguy who also made a three-minute presentation.

Over the past several weeks, a Carroll County couple has been mounting a campaign against the $10 annual wheel tax vehicle owners pay to fund the Carroll County 1,000 Acre Recreational Lake. The $10 is part of the larger $55 total wheel tax, with the balance funding other things. 

The tax and the challenge to it brought about lively discussion among commissioners at the Monday night meeting of the Carroll County Legislative Body.

Following a motion by commissioner Vince Taylor with a second by commissioner Randy Long and a unanimous vote of the 17 commissioners, it was agreed that Budget Committee member’s chairman Willie Huffman, Johnny Blount, Manuel Crossno, Darrell Ridgely and Brian Winston would act as a liaison to meet with Carroll County Watershed Authority members’ chairman Tommy Surber, Huntingdon Mayor Dale Kelley, County Mayor Joseph Butler, County Register of Deeds Natalie Porter, Joe Smothers and Bob Clark. Their mission is to see what kind of an agreement can be reached concerning the future of the wheel tax and when it can be eliminated.

Purpose of the committee

Commissioner John Austin questioned the purpose of the committee. 

“It opens up public discussion between the Watershed Authority and a committee of the Legislative body and to answer some of these questions that many of us have so we can hopefully start working toward a solution that satisfies everyone,” said County Mayor Joseph Butler. “We put so much money toward the Watershed Authority that we should have at least an opportunity for transparency and accountability that I’m not sure were seeing at this point.”

Commissioner Darrell Ridgely, who is on the Budget Committee, pointed out that was why the Budget Committee wants an opportunity to sit down face to face with the Watershed Authority and then come back to the Legislative Body with a report.

“There is a real disagreement about construction and development,” said Ridgely. 

The referendum that the county voted on says “Shall the County of Carroll increase the current motor vehicle privilege tax by $10 to fund the local 30 percent share of the total cost for developing and constructing the 977-acre lake proposed by the Carroll County Watershed Authority.”

However, Resolution 1-6-2003 passed by the Legislative Body limits the obligation of the county for its 30 percent share to a fixed figure of $3,000,000. In a letter from county attorney Robert T. Keeton Jr. to then County Mayor Kenny McBride, dated Aug. 12, 2012, Keeton said there was a conflict between the referendum and this resolution and that the resolution and contract were prepared without input from his office.

“I think it was sold to us as being construction and we believe it was construction,” said Ridgely. 

The figure paid through wheel tax on the lake now stands at $4,229,000 according to figures revealed by Cyril and Jan Ostiguy.

Ridgely said he wants to get rid of the wheel tax, but on the other hand he doesn’t want to see a bunch of money spent on legal fees.

He said the state lawyers he has talked with say that if the county commission votes to remove the wheel tax, it would be breaching the contract and would open the door to a lot of litigation.

Austin said he doesn’t mind paying a $10-wheel tax for the lake because it is a benefit to Carroll County.

“Whether you agree or don’t agree this is not the way we want to go,” said Austin. “The lake is a benefit to the county.”

He pointed out that it was like paying the wheel tax for county roads, but there are some he never uses but believes it is his obligation to maintain them.

Ridgely said the word development is an unending term.

“We need to know how much it will take to satisfy the Watershed Authority’s obligation and come back and decide what the Legislative Body wants to do,” he said. “We may come back with no change.”

Commissioner Jimmy McClure added that the county needs to have control over their indebtedness.

During her three-minute speech before the commissioners she said that she has concerns about the sustainability of the Watershed Authority’s Business plan.

“Having reviewed the audits of the Watershed Authority for the past several years, I also have concerns about some of the expenditures,” she said. “I believe any business budget should be balanced and as I practice with my home budget I should never spend or borrow more than you can repay.”

  She also said that bill SB.197 passed in 1983 by the state legislature allows county commissioners to increase, decrease or cancel a wheel tax.

“Wheel taxes have been removed in our state in the past,” she said. “Just two years ago Smith County did it.”

Cyril Ostiguy said neither he nor his wife has a problem with the 1,000-acre lake. They just want the $10-wheel tax removed as promised in the resolution.

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