SEBRING — As gas prices creep and leap up during Race Week from less than $2.50 to closer to $2.65, not all of that price is fuel. Nearly 15 percent is tax.
Florida ranks as one of the highest gasoline tax states, with 36.59 cents per gallon going to the state and another 18.4 cents going to the federal government, before cycling back down in the form of state projects. Florida counties can levy up to 12 cents of local option gasoline taxes, and Highlands County does that.
On every net gallon of gasoline or diesel fuel sold within the county, Highlands County charges the state mandated fifth- and sixth-cent tax along with the local option “ninth-cent tax,” 1-to-6-cent tax, 1-to-5-cent tax and a seventh-cent tax.
All told, those taxes raise between $6.77 million (Fiscal Year 2010) and $7.38 million (Fiscal Year 2018) per year, according to county records.
Revenues from Fiscal Years 2009 through 2018 average $7.06 million per year, which has added up to $70.6 million over those 10 years.
Where does this money go?
Business Services Manager Christopher Benson said via email that approximately $355,000 per year over the past 10 years has gone to projects. In addition, approximately $60,000 gets budgeted each year to pay the county’s share of the 50/50 maintenance agreement on Sebring Parkway with the city of Sebring.
Starting this fiscal year, 2018-19, and for the next four years, the county budgets will allocate $750,000 per year to the Infrastructure Surtax Fund to go toward transportation projects, Benson said.
That includes road resurfacing/reconstruction, Parkway maintenance — given the fact that the Parkway hasn’t been fully repaved since it was built 20 years ago — and Transportation Operational & Safety Improvements Program (TOSIP) projects.
Right now, the balance in the account for these projects is just over $4.91 million.
Some of those funds go to projects that are not roads, per se, Benson said.
In Fiscal Years 2016-17 and 2017-18, $291,400 went to the county sign inventory project — to replace and upgrade signs on county roads.
Starting this fiscal year, 2018-19, those funds may be used, if needed, to improve equipment and buildings for the Engineering and Road & Bridge Departments, Benson said.
County budget officials and engineers over the years have described gas taxes as a “user fee” on people who drive the most on local roads. When they need to refuel, they help pay the cost of road resurfacing, rebuilding and basic maintenance.
The Florida Department of Revenue administers, collects and enforces local option fuel taxes and uses those funds for transportation projects, according to the department’s website, FloridaRevenue.com.
The Florida Legislature has authorized statewide equalization of local option tax rates on diesel fuel. That means the full 6 cents of the 1-to-6-cent fuel tax as well as the ninth-cent fuel tax are levied on diesel fuel in every county — even if the county government has not imposed any taxes on motor fuel or is levying the maximum rate.
Thus, 7 cents’ worth of local option tax revenue on diesel gets distributed to all local governments, regardless of whether all counties levy those two fuel taxes.
Highlands County does levy those two taxes. The local option 6-cent tax has returned an average of $2.47 million each year for Fiscal Years 2009 through 2018, with a 10-year total of $24.8 million.
The 9th cent has brought in an average of $532,100 per year for those 10 years, with an overall total of $5.32 million for that time.
Highlands already collects the Constitutional Gas Tax, a 2-cent tax levied by the state and distributed to county governments for new roads, resurfacing, safety projects/improvements, right of way purchases, bridge replacements and traffic signals on the county’s 1,183 miles of road, including 206 miles of unpaved road, according to the 2018-19 fiscal year recommended budget.
Of those state taxes, 20 percent gets paid to the county up front, with the remaining 80 percent to be paid to retire road revenue bonds. Any left after that is sent to the county. The budget states that the county has no outstanding bonds and expects revenue of $1.88 million from that tax.
Over the last 10 years, Highlands County has gotten $17.4 million from the 2-cent state tax, an average of $1.72 million per year.
Highlands County has the local option 5-cent tax, too. It’s brought in an average of $1.55 million per year for the last 10 fiscal years, for a total of $15.4 million.
Over those same last 10 years, the seventh-cent tax has brought in as little as $719,846 and as much as $832,258 — last year’s revenue.
It averages out to $767,100 per year and adds up over 10 years to $7.67 million.