MANKATO — Brown County approved a new $10 per vehicle tax to fund road improvements last month, Le Sueur County did the same last week, and the Watonwan County Board followed suit this week. Several other area counties — including Blue Earth — appear to be content to wait at least a year before approving the tax.
The deadline to authorize the tax is Aug. 1 if counties want the revenue collected on vehicle registrations in 2014.
County boards in Blue Earth and Nicollet counties have scheduled further discussions on the pros and cons of the per-vehicle wheelage tax and another road funding option authorized for counties by the state Legislature — a half-percent local option sales tax.
Blue Earth County Public Works Director Al Forsberg has brought up the new funding alternatives at more than one meeting. While the commissioners showed little enthusiasm for implementing the new taxes in the first year, they did agree to discuss the taxes at a board workshop late this month. As a workshop, the meeting can't include a vote on the idea — meaning Blue Earth County won't be able to meet the deadline for a 2014 implementation.
"That's the impression I got: They don't want to rush into it, but we should be exploring the options available to us," Forsberg said.
With 50,500 vehicles in Blue Earth County, the $10 registration surcharge for county road projects would generate $505,000 a year, according to estimates by the Association of Minnesota Counties. The local sales tax would be even more of a windfall. In 2011, for instance, it would have generated $5.3 million in Blue Earth County.
In Nicollet County, the wheelage tax would bring in just under $260,000 and the sales tax a bit more than $1.2 million. That compares to $1.82 million in property taxes collected in the county for construction and maintenance of roads and public works buildings, said Seth Greenwood, Nicollet County public works director.