Various methods have been employed for securing the funds necessary for the construction and improve ment of country roads. Many of the earlier roads in this country were toll roads built by private capital and kept up exclusively by charges paid by travelers. Toll roads are objectionable because they impose a tax upon all the traffic of the road, and also because the cost of management is usually large, thus restricting traffic. They are conducted for the purpose of deriving a profit from their operation. They are gradually disappearing and should be dispensed with except under exceptional circumstances.
District Roads. The most common method of rais ing funds for road purposes is by property and poll tax in small districts. By this method a small poll tax is assessed against each voter of the district, payable either in money or labor, and a certain property tax which is levied uniformly upon property in the district, and often also payable in labor or cash at the option of the property owner. In some instances the property tax must be paid in money, and in others a portion of it must be paid in money. In some poor and sparsely settled localities the poll tax is the principle source of revenue, and road work consists mainly in working out the road tax by the residents of the district.
As a general thing, the results of the collection of road tax in labor are not good. Under the labor system men do not work on the roads a sufficient length of time to become expert enough to do good work; many of them feel no particular interest in the work and are only concerned in getting in the required time. Under this system it is not usually possible to have the road work done when it is needed, as the convenience of the laborers must be considered. In many places therefore efforts are being made to require the payment of property tax in money. This is highly desirable wherever the money will be expended under proper management, but in numerous instances no improvement has followed a change to the cash system because of a lack of intelligent control of the work.
County Road Tax. In some states there is a general property tax for road and bridge purposes. This tax is, usually, at the disposal of the county commis sioners, or county court, which uses it for the con struction and maintenance of county bridges and also for such road work as maybe of special importance and of interest to the county in general. Frequently such funds are used to encourage the construction of improved roads by paying a part of the cost where owners of property specially benefited, or road dis tricts in which the road may lie, are willing to pay their share of the cost. The maintenance of the
ordinary country roads usually depends upon the district tax, but a county road fund judiciously administered may do much to improve the more im portant highways and thus secure good roads leading from various parts of the county to the market towns.
Special Assessments. The laws of some of the states provide for levying special assessments against property benefited by the improvement of country roads. These laws are usually permissive, allowing either the county court or majority of property owners concerned, by instituting proper proceedings in court or before commissioners, to have the improvement made and assessed upon property within certain distances from the road. In some instances the whole cost is paid in this way; in others a part is appropriated by the county, or state, or both, and a part is raised by special assessment.
State Appropriations. Several of the states appro priate state funds, which may be used in assisting in the construction of improved roads throughout the state. The amount of assistance given varies in different states; in New Jersey 33* per cent of the cost is paid by the state, 5611 per cent by the county, and 10 per cent by the abutting property; in Massachu setts the state pays 75 per cent, and the county 25 per cent; in New York the state pays 5o per cent, the county 35 per cent, and the town 15 per cent.
These various laws all have for their object the distribution of cost upon all interests benefited by the work. There has been much discussion of this subject and many opinions expressed concerning the justice of various methods of distributing the cost. The improvement of main roads by local districts without outside assistance does not seem equitable, and the use of general county tax for this purpose is intended to place a share of the cost upon the towns and other interests not reached in the local taxes. It also secures a centralized and usually better control of road work. All of the sources of revenue are benefited by road improvement and may reasonably be expected to contribute to its cost, but the exact evaluation of relative benefits is not possible, and the amount each must pay should be determined by con sidering what is feasible and in what way the greatest improvement may be effected.