Four red oaks, three swamp white oaks and a hackberry tree are wrapped in burlap and waiting for new homes along streets in low income areas of Goshen, IN. They will be planted in early November, thanks to Goshen’s first Voluntary Gas Tax Group.

Members of the Voluntary Gas Tax Group tax themselves fifty or more cents per dollar on every gallon of gas they buy. Three times a year, they meet to pool resources and decide what to do with the revenue. The voluntary tax is an acknowledgement that current gas prices do not accurately represent the environmental or foreign policy costs of dependence on fossil fuels.

Goshen’s Voluntary Gas Tax Group has dispersed over $4,500 this year, most of which was spent locally on projects that benefit both the environment and the unemployed. In June, the group chose to work with Goshen City Forester, Aaron Kingsley, to buy trees for neighborhoods that can’t afford them.

According to Kingsley, a new tree the size required by the City of Goshen’s Tree Ordinance can cost $90-$110 to purchase and another $60 to plant. The Ordinance also specifies that the city can’t pay more than 50% of the cost for planting street trees; the other half is the responsibility of residents. Especially in today’s difficult economy, residents of the neighborhoods that need trees most do not have $80 to spend on a tree. For the eight new trees waiting to be planted, voluntary gas tax money will make up the difference.

“Trees are symbols and actual evidence of real care for a neighborhood,” Kingsley says. “All of our neighborhoods deserve the long list of benefits associated with healthy trees: shade, reduced energy costs in summer and winter, beauty, reduced crime, reduced pollution and longer lasting pavements.”

Trees are particularly beneficial in the summer, when their shade can reduce the air temperature of a site as much as 20 degrees and the hard surface temperature as much as 35 degrees, significantly cutting cooling costs.

Other projects the Voluntary Gas Tax Group completed this year include bus tokens and a washer and dryer for clients of The Window; compact fluorescent light bulbs distributed through La Casa and support of the Chain Reaction Bicycle Project, all in Goshen, IN.

Taxing gas is an effective way to raise funds. With a dozen or more households contributing, gas tax money piles up quickly into amounts that can make a difference to local nonprofits. Even at only fifty cents/gallon, a five-mile commute to work can generate $30 or $40 over a four month period. One family visit to the east coast can generate $50 to $100 depending on gas mileage and the tax rate a participant chooses. At a recent meeting, a student who’d been on an extended road trip last summer plunked down $200.

Nevertheless, most Voluntary Gas Tax members say they haven’t missed the money they’ve given, especially since it has gone to causes they’ve chosen themselves. “I’ve already paid $4 per gallon for gas so adding 50 cents/gallon to the current prices is not really a strain,” observes Glenn Gilbert, the group’s treasurer.

The Voluntary Gas Tax Group invites others to join them. “This is a fun way to organize and find creative ways to do good things for the environment,” Gilbert says. Participation requires only a little record keeping and three optional meetings per year for those who want a voice in how the money is spent.

To join or learn how to start a gas tax group of your own, email or call Karl at (574) 534-4190. Also see