The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

July 19, 2013

Blue Earth County passes on wheelage tax

$10 annual vehicle fee OK'ed by Brown, Watonwan, Le Sueur counties


State assistance for both construction and maintenance of Nicollet County's 246 miles of designated "county state-aid highways" totals more than $3 million annually. So the wheelage tax revenue would pale in comparison to the funds available for the CSAH roads.

But Greenwood said counties will have the option to increase the wheelage tax to as much as $20 per vehicle in 2018, doubling the potential revenue. And even $260,000 available in 2014 would be meaningful when it comes to the 67 miles of mostly gravel roads that the county is solely responsible for maintaining.

"We have to rely solely on the (property tax) levy," he said.

Greenwood informally laid out the gap between current funding and current needs at a Nicollet County Board meeting last week, and the board scheduled a further discussion at next week's meeting.

For Watonwan County Public Works Director Roger Risser, approval came on Tuesday — although just barely. On a 3-2 vote, the County Board passed the wheelage tax for 2014. With 11,400 vehicles in the county, the new registration fee will bring in $114,000 next year, and Risser also expects the dollars to be aimed at those county-supported local roads.

With the property tax levy for roads and bridges topping out at about $1 million, the new wheelage tax will bring roughly a 10 percent bump in locally generated funds.

"It's good news for the local road and bridge fund," Risser said.

Brown County was the wheelage tax pioneer in south-central Minnesota, unanimously approving the tax in late June that will bring in an estimated $286,000 in new revenue. The Le Sueur County Board also was unanimous in approving what is expected to generate $310,000 in annual revenue.

The relative popularity of the wheelage tax, which has been available to metro counties for years, is in contrast to a more cautious approach to the lucrative local sales tax that counties also could approve — although a public hearing must be held prior to any approval.

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