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Commissioners will consider wheelage tax, sales tax to pay for local roads

MORRIS – The Stevens County Board of Commissioners has the option to implement a wheelage tax or local sales tax to help fund local road projects, but must decide about one option before August 1.

On Tuesday, County Engineer Brian Giese presented the two funding options to the board and was directed to prepare a plan for how the county could use the additional revenue for consideration in July.

The first funding option is a $10 wheelage tax that would be added to the cost of licensing a vehicle in the county. The Association of Minnesota Counties estimated that a wheelage tax could bring in about $95,000 per year in Stevens County.

Counties also have the option to implement a five cent local sales tax, which could generate as much as $416,300 a year in Stevens County. But the sales tax can only be implemented to pay for a specific project identified by the county board. The tax then goes away after the project is funded, unless the board has identified a new project to support, Giese explained.

Giese said the board needed to decide on two things, whether there is a need for more transportation funding and how they would want to frame the decision, as a way to lower property taxes or as a way to fund projects the county couldn't otherwise afford.

“We have county roads and then we have county state aid roads, most counties are talking about this as something to help their county roads which are traditionally funded only by property tax,” said Giese.

Commissioner Phil Gausman asked Giese how he would ideally spend money generated by a hypothetical wheelage tax.

Giese said he would like to invest more into the county's gravel road system. The wheelage tax money could pay to grade about one mile of the system each year.

But Giese also pointed out that most of the money raised for a wheelage fee would come from residents in one of the municipalities who may not use the gravel road system.

“I tend to agree with where you think the money should go,” said Gausman. “I think we have tremendous problems in the county. We have a road system that's not built for what's running on it now. We need to do something.”

The board indicated they were more interested in the wheelage tax than the sales tax, but did not take a formal vote on either of the measures. Giese said he would prepare more information and a three to five year plan for discussion in July.

Other business

• The board voted to hire Midwest Health Benefits of Morris to help work with insurance agents if the county is forced to change its health plan as a result of mandates from the Affordable Care Act. There is no cost to the agreement until the county moves forward with an insurance agent.

• The board approved a one year loader lease agreement for $12,975 with Kinetic Leasing for a Case loader for the Highway Department.

• The board approved hiring Jill Doscher as an office support specialist in the Human Services Department. The board also authorized Human Services Director Joanie Murphy to contract with financial workers from other counties for up to six months to help the department keep up with their workload while they are short staffed.

• The board approved a shelter agreement with Kongsvinger Lutheran Church outside Donnelly. Under the agreement Kongsvinger will serve as a mass care shelter site in the event of a disaster.

• The board approved a service agreement with West Central Environmental Consultants to update the county's hazard mitigation plan. The agreement will not exceed $24,500.

• The board reappointed Hugh Reimers to the Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board through 2018. Reimers represents the Chokio area.