PC Engineer Mike Lenhart sitting with the county commissioners gives a presentation on a proposed increase to license plate renewal fees to help fund road repair while Don Croy and his grandson look on (far right) - Putnam Sentinel
PC Engineer Mike Lenhart sitting with the county commissioners gives a presentation on a proposed increase to license plate renewal fees to help fund road repair while Don Croy and his grandson look on (far right). (Martin Verni/Putnam Sentinel)

PUTNAM COUNTY — For over 30 years now, Croy’s Mowing has been a near-ubiquitous fixture around parking lots and green spaces throughout the county and beyond. Long enough that when Don Croy, owner of the business and also a Ottawa Township Trustee, joined the first of two hearings on a $10 increase to license plate renewal fees to fund roadway improvement, he was able to bring the next generation with him. Don and his grandson were the only two members of the public to be present at the two hearings held back-to-back last Thursday evening.

“We have to pay our taxes too,” Croy said when giving his reason for supporting the increase. Croy owns a fleet of 72 vehicles and the proposal would increase the license plate renewal fees he currently pays by $720. And, he agrees that the increase is necessary to help maintain the quality of county roads.

Ohio’s revised code permits counties to raise the license plate renewal fee to a maximum of $25 in $5 increments. Four fifths, or $20 dollars of that potential fee is controlled by the county. The last $5 may be added by villages or townships.

Depending on which section of the code is invoked, each $5 increment is split in different ways. When the adjustment was first proposed, the Sentinel reported that it only involved a single $5 per plate increase with the money going towards the county to fund roadway improvements. There are actually two proposals of $5 each, for a total of a $10 per plate renewal increase.

The entirety of the increase still goes to fund roadway improvements. However, one of the $5 increases will go entirely to the county for county roads, and one will be split with the townships and villages to help fund roadway improvements in their areas as well.

According to Putnam County Engineer Mike Lenhart’s presentation on the proposal, the typical price, when all is said and done, for paving just one mile of road in Putnam County ranges in recent years between $100,000 and $115,000. The county has 330 miles of roadway which his office is responsible for maintaining. “Over the last 10 years, we’ve only averaged paving about six miles a year,” Lenhart said. “At that rate it would take us 55 years to pave every road in the county. And, you’d really like to pave them about every 15 years, 20 years at the most, if you really want to keep them in good shape.”

“Since 2005, just to chip seal the road to maintain it - not to pave it, but just to maintain it - the cost of just the stone alone has increased by 213 percent,” Lenhart added. “And, asphalt mix, just the mix itself - not any of the labor or equipment or anything else - just the mix itself has increased 250 percent.”

According to Lenhart, the county was once paving around 18 miles per year, and now just averages around a third of that, or six miles. Far less than is needed to maintain 330 miles of road.

In addition to the requested increase, Lenhart continues to seek other sources of funding as well. Over the last three years, his office has successfully applied for $6.1 million in grants for roads and bridges. He has also improved efficiency within the county engineer’s office, cutting personnel from 30 people to 26.

“I’ve been here three and a half years,” he says later in the presentation. “I’ve had the opportunity now to sit down and evaluate all of the data. It’s kind of an eye opener when you actually see it all. We were paving 18-20 miles per year 10 years ago, and now we’re paving six. It was a red flag warning. That’s why I went to [the commissioners]. That’s why we’re here today.”

Second hearings were held on the two $5 increases on Monday, Dec. 31 at 2 and 2:30 p.m. respectively. Given the New Year’s Day holiday, these hearings occurred after the Sentinel’s deadline. The commissioners are expected to vote on the proposals soon.