MANKATO — The Blue Earth County Board is considering adopting a local sales tax to finance backlogged road maintenance, new construction and property tax relief.
Four of the five commissioners expressed at least some interest in the idea and the fifth was noncommittal during a discussion this week — enough of a signal that county staff will begin the work of preparing detailed options, with a decision possibly coming later this year.
A county-imposed sales tax of up to one-half of 1 percent, along with the opportunity to impose a $10 per vehicle wheelage tax, was first made available to counties by the Minnesota Legislature in 2013. Of Minnesota's 87 counties, 47 chose to impose the wheelage tax in the first year, including every county in south-central Minnesota other than Blue Earth and Nicollet.
But when Blue Earth County discussed the sales tax alternative in July of last year, no outstate counties had imposed that potentially more lucrative source of revenue for roads, bridges, transit and other transportation-related spending. Ultimately, the board decided to forgo either tax in 2013, while not ruling out the option in 2014 or beyond.
"We had some discussion, but we decided not to move forward at that time," said County Administrator Bob Meyer.
Like a year ago, Commissioners Vance Stuehrenberg and Drew Campbell were clearly interested in the sales tax idea.
Campbell said Mankato's status as a regional retail, service and employment center means people from throughout south-central Minnesota and even northern Iowa are using the county's roads, but local property owners are being hit with most of the burden of repairing and expanding them. The sales tax would allow road funding to be collected from those visitors and commuters.
"It seems like you'd get some funding from the larger area that Mankato is serving instead of (solely) the local taxpayers," Campbell said.