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Proposed Yellowstone County Gasoline Tax May Be Heard Before Commissioners

Jackie Yamanaka

The Republican majority on the Yellowstone County Commission remains firm in opposing a proposed county gasoline tax. But one says he’s not opposed to at least discussing the proposal at a commission meeting.

“They can bring anything they want for a discussion,” says Yellowstone County Commissioner John Ostlund. But he remains firmly opposed to the idea.

“Actually I was happy to hear today that one of the commissioners said any of the commissioners can put things on the commissioner’s agenda,” says Yellowstone County Commission Chairman Bill Kennedy. “So that’s good to know.”

The Democrat says for him this issue isn’t about the county commissioners imposing a tax increase on voters.  Kennedy says this is about giving the voters the right to decide the issue for themselves.

The idea for a county gasoline tax was floated at a Billings Chamber of Commerce meeting in January. The revenue would pay for roads. The issue came up Wednesday during a meeting of officials representing Yellowstone county, the cities of Billings and Laurel, and Billings public schools.

There were no plans to place a possible county gas tax on the commission agenda as of Tuesday.

Current Montana statute would allow a county commission to place such an issue on the ballot. Another option is through the initiative process.

While this discussion might be aimed at Yellowstone County and its voters, Billings Mayor Tom Hanel says there’s a larger issue at play. He says the Montana League of Cities and Towns continues to discuss whether to bring this issue up again at the Montana Legislature.

Lawmakers have allowed resort communities to ask their voters to approve alocal sales tax, but they’ve rejected requests to allow larger communities to do the same.