Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County's portion of revenue collected through a statewide gas tax increased this year, more than doubling the amount received when the program was launched in 2018.

The Bridge and Road Safety and Accountability Program was adopted by the Legislature in 2017 and began distributing funds in 2018. It increased Montana's fuel tax rate to $0.315 for gasoline and $0.292 for special fuels.

In the first year, Missoula County received just $130,000 in funds. But this year, that jumped to $406,000, according to Erick Dickson, assistant director of Public Works.

“As we try to do with all projects, we try to spread this around to those areas that really need it,” said Dickson. “We have more needs than we have funds. It's easy to find projects to do.”

Under the program, a county must adopt a resolution requesting the funds, which Missoula County did last week. A county also must match ever $20 requested with $1 in local funds.

According to the Montana Department of Transportation, the funds are allocated based on a formula that calculates certified road miles and population estimates.

While the program provides more funding than that old base gas tax, some believe it's inherently unfair given that funding is distributed statewide. Ravalli County will receive $354,600, even though its population is a fraction of Missoula County.

Sanders County will receive $150,000; Lake County $338,000; and Mineral County $74,000. A full list of funding by city and county can be found at this link.

“BARSA is collected all over the state and the money is reallocated from places that have a lot of people buying gas and sent off to help infrastructure projects in places that don't have the gas buying volume,” said Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “We only keep a small percentage.”

Missoula County was the first in the state to adopt a local-option fuel tax of $0.02 per gallon. The measure was authorized by the 1979 Legislature but revoked by the 2018 Legislature just months after Missoula County voters adopted the measure.

That formula would have kept the revenue generated by the 2-cent tax in Missoula. That measure is no longer an option and Dickson said that the Bridge and Road Safety program helps, even under the state's distribution formula.

“We do help those other counties that don't have the revenue we see,” he said. “But this is a higher return on our commitment to the state. We get more back than we did with the base gas tax. This is a more worthwhile program than the base gas tax.”