Portage County government has never taken advantage of a permissive license fee that Ohio law allows to be added to the cost of license plates.

Now commissioners are thinking that untapped revenue source could bolster a crumbling road budget.

The board will meet Thursday to discuss whether to take advantage of the fee, which would cost some car owners in the county between $5 and $10 a year while raising $1 million for maintaining county roads.

County Engineer Mickey Marozzi told county commissioners this week that his department’s budget, largely fueled by gas taxes, has been dwindling with the rise of more efficient cars, electric cars, and an economy that has people driving less in general.

Meanwhile, the cost for repairing roads — including the prolific pothole problem caused by this past winter’s severe weather — continues to go up.

The county gets some state and federal help for bridges and major road projects, but not so much for the day-to-day issues.

“The worry is, if [Marozzi] gets too far behind and doesn’t do the necessary sealing of the roads, it will graduate to the point where the base of the road breaks, and if that happens, the base has to be replaced and that’s a huge cost,” Commissioner Kathleen Chandler said.

By state law, municipalities, townships and counties can add up to $20 to the cost of a license plate through permissive license fees.

Many communities in Portage County have not reached that threshold, so the county can take advantage of two separate $5 fees in areas where the full $20 isn’t being collected.

A $5 fee still could be implemented for drivers living in Brady Lake, Garrettsville, Sugar Bush Knolls, Tallmadge, and all townships. That would raise between $300,000 and $400,000 for the county.

Another $5 fee could be collected for the entire county, with the exception of Hiram, Kent, Mantua and Windham, where the maximum has been reached. That would bring in up to $700,000 a year for county roads.

The fees could be implemented by an emergency vote of all three commissioners after two public hearings, or can be submitted to the ballot, though Chandler noted, “There’s a feeling that if we put it on the ballot it almost surely would fail.”

Chandler said commissioners would need to decide on Thursday which option to take. If need be, public hearings would be scheduled in June so the county can make a July 1 state deadline.

“We want people to speak to us,” Chandler said. “We want to hear from them.”

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis.