by Paul Rignell
The Sherburne County Board voted July 9 to adopt a $10 wheelage tax on most vehicles for the coming registration year, as authorized by the state in 2013.
John Menter, county public works director, told commissioners that approving the tax would allow staff to move up critical road and bridge projects by a year, as early as 2014.
Menter said his department will begin to schedule repairs next year for County Road 11, which crosses the county north-to-south between Becker and Big Lake, and Highway 24, near Clear Lake.
He said counties are required to report to the state registrar by Aug. 1 whether they will accept additional taxes for road and bridge work in the coming year, or wait to reconsider a motion next summer. The state will collect the wheelage tax with other fees and taxes as vehicle owners renew their annual registrations, and then allocate the funding back to the participating counties.
One resident in attendance July 9 asked why Sherburne County would not just fund for roads and bridges through its general levy. Menter replied that his department has not increased its budget in the county total through the last four years, and it will recommend a slight decrease for 2014.
He said that the people to be assessed this new tax are limited to most of those who drive on the county roads. “The wheelage tax is a true user fee,” Menter said, adding that motorcycles, motor scooters, antique and collector cars are exempt under the new statute.
Commissioner Bruce Anderson moved for the board to approve the tax, and his colleagues joined with him to pass the motion unanimously. Anderson said the statute received wide support from the Legislature, based on what he saw and heard on visits to the Capitol this session. “They don’t like taxes, obviously,” he said, “but they understand that our roads and bridges are falling behind.”
Commissioner Felix Schmiesing opened his comments by saying he agreed with the tax on principle. “It’s everything that it should be,” he said.
But Schmiesing noted the board will need to schedule discussions of the tax in future years, or otherwise it remains in place with no chance for repeal. He said that he was not reading enough in what was presented for commissioners July 9 to know whether there would be a need for the tax after 2014.
“I need to know more about what our baseline for spending is,” Schmiesing said. “I haven’t seen enough here today that gives me a basis to get behind this.”
He was convinced to vote for the motion after Menter noted his department has always presented an updated five-year capital improvement plan during past budget workshops, and will again in the coming months.
Paul Rignell is a freelance writer who covers the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners.