‘If you want the service, you have to pay for it’

When Gary and I were paying the bills the other day, we started talking about the ever-rising costs for services. Seems like we’re paying more for so many things. The satellite TV service has gone up $15 a month since we signed on a few years ago. Our landline and Internet’s gone up, too, more than $10 a month. Not to mention that cell phone bill! We paid anyway.

I suspect it’s the same for all of us. The cost for services goes up, but we pay and don’t complain. We’ve been convinced the services provided are new and improved, and worth every penny. Maintenance and repair, materials and labor cost more today. If we can’t live without the services, we pay. User’s fees, I suppose we can call them.

I think of this often as I sit and listen down in Concord. We folks here in New Hampshire are very familiar with user’s fees. In fact, many of our “taxes” are in fact user’s fees paid to cover costs. I pay a fee for my childcare license, and it helps fund training classes and safety inspections. Hunter’s and fisher’s license fees keep the N.H. Department of Fish and Game operating. Boat registration fees are used to help keep the lakes and rivers clean, car registration fees help towns maintain the roads — you get my drift. If you use it, you will pay, and if you don’t, you won’t. We think that’s fair.

But although we seem to understand increased charges from our phone and cable companies, and accept them without complaint, we sure do squawk if Concord talks about increasing any fees!

A case in point is the road toll, paid by people who use the roads. Often mislabeled the “gas tax,” the money collected from this fee is used to repair and maintain our roads and bridges. This fee has remained the same for more than 20 years — 18 cents a gallon of gasoline purchased. If you drive on the roads in a gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicle, you pay this fee. (If you purchase gasoline for your boat, you can get reimbursed for the road toll you paid on it. If your vehicle uses another power source, you ride the roads for free, but that’s another story.)

Herein lay the problems. Cars and trucks get better gas mileage now than they did 20 years ago and are filling up less often, and there are more alternative fuel choices. The state is collecting less money from the road toll every year. Materials used to repair and maintain are a lot more expensive than they were 20 years ago. More and more of our roads and bridges are falling into disrepair. The longer they go unrepaired, the more it costs to fix them.

The wise Senate understands, and has passed SB 367. It will come over to the House soon. SB 367 increases the road toll by 4 cents a gallon for the next 20 years. All the money raised will go to build, repair, and maintain roads and bridges in the state. Thirty-three percent of the revenue — $194,435,163 over 20 years — will go directly back to towns and cities for their roads and bridges. The rest goes to state roads and bridges and the widening of I-93.

Locally this will mean:

$193,000 for Antrim,

$90,000 for Bennington,

$162,000 for Dublin

$194,000 for Francestown

$154,000 for Greenfield

$89,000 for Greenville

$187,000 for Hancock

$331,000 for Jaffrey

$179,000 for Lyndeborough

$296,000 for New Ipswich

$$381,000 for Peterborough

$42,000 for Sharon

$148,000 for Temple

$256,000 for Wilton

Before you start telling me you simply can’t afford another 4 cents a gallon on your fill up, please reconsider. If you are an average driver who gets 25 miles per gallon and travels 10,000 a year, the total cost for your share will be— are you ready — $1.33 a month.

You may not even see that increase at all, due to way gasoline prices are determined. Gasoline is a commodity. Oil companies set the prices they figure a region will tolerate. Prices fluctuate drastically from week to week and from location to location, and the road toll amount has little to do with the price that is set. I learned this the last time I visited family in Old Orchard Beach. Maine’s road toll is 10 cents a gallon more than New Hampshire’s, yet the price for a gallon in downtown Old Orchard Beach was exactly the same as I paid on Route 4 in Northwood.

Want proof yourself? Travel Route 9 from Hillsborough through Keene and over the border to Brattleboro, and watch the gas prices. Vermont’s road toll is 12 cents a gallon more than ours, but I bet the price at the pump there is not 12 cents higher than it is in Chesterfield.

But while you’re at it, check out the condition of Route 9 — the major east-west highway between Keene and Concord. I sure hope you have good shocks.

We need our roads and bridges. We need to repair and maintain them. It’s simply the responsible thing to do. Anyone who tells you otherwise is not being honest. People and goods need to get places, and flying cars are not yet an option.

If you want the service, you have to pay for it. That’s only fair.

Marjorie Porter, a Democrat, is a representative in Hillsborough District 1, which includes Antrim.

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