ST. PETER — Authorizing a local sales tax to fund county road projects has some appeal to four of the 10 Blue Earth and Nicollet County commissioners. But a majority of commissioners on both boards remain skeptical of the revenue option, one of two new transportation funding opportunities provided to counties by the Minnesota Legislature this year.
Nicollet County Commissioner Jim Swenson, whose district includes half of St. Peter, said he could probably support a transportation sales tax if the state reduced and broadened its sales tax. And Commissioner Jack Kolars said counties might be waiting a long time for more road revenue if they wait for state lawmakers to agree on a new funding source.
“This is where stuff gets done — at the county level,” said Kolars, comparing the political process in courthouses to that in the state Capitol. “... They might not ever do it.”
But the majority of commissioners appeared willing to wait a while longer in hopes that the transportation funding gridlock in St. Paul might be broken.
“Some of us are going to ride it a while and let it be,” said Blue Earth County Commissioner Mark Piepho at a joint meeting of the two boards this week. “We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.”
“I spoke to the ag community in my district, and they’re kind of gun-shy of a new tax,” said Commissioner Will Purvis of Vernon Center, noting that farmers are already being hit by rising property taxes due to skyrocketing land values.
And Commissioner Kip Bruender of Eagle Lake was concerned that implementing a county-authorized road tax is letting state lawmakers off the hook.
“We’re taking another step toward doing the state’s job,” Bruender said.
The Blue Earth County Board didn’t vote this year on implementing the sales tax or a $10 per vehicle wheelage tax, the other new opportunity for boosting road revenue that the Democratic-controlled Legislature provided to counties. Informal discussions showed that Piepho, Bruender and Purvis weren’t ready to support either, even as Commissioners Vance Stuehrenberg and Drew Campbell seemed more open to the ideas, partly in hopes of reducing the level of property taxes required for road projects.