Belmont County commissioners held the first of two public hearings Tuesday to discuss a proposed $10 increase in license plate fees.
County Engineer Fred Bennett said each registration will cost an additional 83 cents a month, or less than 3 cents per day. The hike would fund road repairs and maintenance.
Bennett said Belmont County has 308 miles of roadways to maintain, along with 280 bridges on county highways and township roads. Maintaining them requires employees, equipment and materials.
"Our roads need resurfaced," said Bennett, adding that the last paving of county highways was done in 2012, when 1.5 miles of County Highway 4 was resurfaced. That job was 100 percent funded by a local coal company.
Bennett also said that while 10-15 bridges have been replaced annually during the past decade, 80 bridges in the county cannot carry legal loads and are posted with load limits between 4 and 32 tons. Half of them cannot carry school buses, emergency vehicles, and fuel trucks, he said.
"We are able to replace small bridges, 10-50 foot spans, with our employees, but larger bridges must be replaced by private contractors," he said.
Bennett said the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles delivered an estimate based on 2011 registrations that determined $536,006 will be raised annually by enacting the increased fee.
"This will not solve all of our problems, but it will be of great benefit," he said.
Michael Bianconi, Pease Township trustee and a former county commissioner, voiced support for the measure.
"We need the funds to do their job," he said.
Frank Papini of Bridgeport recognized the need but could not totally agree, noting the increase will place an extra burden on those with fixed incomes. He said there should be a greater effort to generate revenue from the oil and gas industry. He said the gas and oil companies' trucks put considerable wear on the roads.
"Make them pay their fair share," he said.
Ed Hood of Shadyside said he is on Social Security and facing mounting expenses, the loss of health insurance and the need to purchase his own. He pointed to increased property taxes, a higher electric bill, car and homeowner's insurance payments, combined with more levies on the ballot. He said he and his wife will be dipping into their savings for necessities.
"Everybody's running out of money, but it falls back on the ones who can afford it the least," he said. "We've been married 57 years, and we can't take care of ourselves anymore."
St. Clairsville businessman John Swan concurred. He suggested a tax for businesses that utilize vehicles.
Frank Schaeffer, Pultney Township trustee, favored the plan. He said the measure was the cheapest option available.
Robert Vincenzo, mayor of St. Clairsville, speaking as a private citizen, voiced support due to the need for safety, asking that people compare the cost incurred by an accident due to poor roads.
"If we do not do something soon, a lot of our paved roads are going to be back to gravel roads," said Commissioner Matt Coffland.