Putting wheels on the road might cost Fillmore County residents $20 more at the vehicle registration counter, as the Fillmore County commissioners entertained the possibility of enacting a wheelage tax that would provide additional funding for local roads and bridges to be repaired or maintained.

At a Fillmore County Board meeting Tuesday, July 11, highway engineer Ron Gregg brought a map to share with the commissioners showing which counties within the state use a wheelage tax and which ones use a local option sales tax, as well as those that employ both to supply funding to offset the costs of road and bridge maintenance. Approximately 50 counties – including Mower, Houston, Dodge and Olmsted – use a wheelage tax for that purpose.

The map he distributed was accompanied by a vehicle summary report outlining the total number of vehicles in Fillmore County that would likely be used to generate funding. The report cited that there are 20,039 vehicles, and at a tax of $20 each, that would garner $460,780.

Presently, Fillmore County uses a local option sales tax to bring in money to fix its three-digit county roads and that option would remain. The county also gets state funds, which many counties have found isn’t an adequate amount to fund their transportation needs.

Gregg reported that from January 2014 through this coming Dec. 31, the state allows $10 per year per registration for each county that authorizes the tax and that on or after Jan. 1, 2018, counties may gather up to $20 per year per registration. Motorcycles, motorized bicycles and motorized foot scooters are exempt from the tax. He pointed out that there had been no recommendation from the county’s highway committee to pursue a wheelage tax by the Aug. 1 deadline.

County Board Chairman Randy Dahl observed that he owns at least eight vehicles and would have to pay the $20 for each, but if that meant that he could be spared some vehicle repairs, he would consider the matter. “There’s pain and there’s gain,” he said.

Commissioner Marc Prestby spoke in opposition, citing that the state has retracted funding sources over the past years and that by finding new county-sponsored sources, the state can be left to neglect its responsibilities to the county.

“There are all these taxes added on from the cities and counties…this shouldn’t be done,” he said. “Where do we draw the line? The local option sales tax is from tourism, but this is hitting home where it hits all the people in the county.”

Commissioner Mitch Lentz commented that he felt that it was a matter of taking care of local roads, even if it meant partially subsidizing what is supposed to be a state transportation program. “We need the money to take care of our roads,” he stated.

Prestby pressed, “It hasn’t been through highway committee.”

Lentz wanted to know if Gregg was basing the tax on usage in the various townships or areas of the county, but other members of the board suggested that that would only politicize the topic. He addressed Gregg, saying that he didn’t want to tell him how or what to do in regard to the wheelage tax, but that he felt that it might be helpful to have the dollars generated.

“This would be a funding mechanism to take care of preserving the roads we’ve done…good for preservation,” said Gregg. “I’m always looking for things to improve and ways to stretch dollars, and we can take a look at this…it can be on the next agenda (on July 25) and bring it forward for a resolution.”

During the citizens’ input portion of the meeting, Bonita Underbakke of Holt Township came before the board to express her support for the wheelage tax, sharing that it would offer a greater allowance for road maintenance and save residents on vehicle repairs.

“And as a senior citizen on a fixed income, I would prefer to pay $20 now rather than (taxes) later,” she told the commissioners.