Commissioners consider wheelage tax, local-option sales tax to fund future road repairs
Wednesday, June 11, 2014 8:14 AM
Discussion regarding wheelage and local-option sales taxes meant to create revenue for repairing Fillmore County's deteriorating roads was held during the Tuesday, June 10, Fillmore County Board of Commissioners' meeting.
Fillmore County Agricultural Society member Greg Dornink asks the Fillmore County commissioners for financial assistance in painting the roof of the livestock building on the fairgrounds. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
County engineer Ronald Gregg asked the commissioners to consider the possibilities of implementing a wheelage tax - $10 per motor vehicle in the county - or a half-cent local-option sales tax. These funding options could provide more possibilities while planning county road repairs for the coming five years.
Gregg explained he has examined the funds available to finish the projects already planned or which are already underway and found that once the money is spent, there is little left for the preservation of other county roads, especially those designated with three digits, those that are less-traveled.
Gregg explained that after County Road 1 through Spring Valley is completely repaired, there won't be funding sources for road preservation - his five-year proposed plan calls for $600,000 worth of preservation work to be done in 2014 and $500,000 to be done in 2015, after which the future is financially uncertain.
He introduced the prospect of implementing a wheelage tax that would be drawn from vehicle registration fees collected by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's driver and vehicle division, or the implementation of the half-cent sales tax, which would be gathered through daily purchases made by Fillmore County residents and visitors.
He pointed out the sales tax could generate $800,000 to $900,000, and the combined taxes could bring up to $1,090,800 per year for transportation project revenue.
The difference is that in order to have the local sales tax, the county must identify a specific project for which it is raising funds.
According to information Gregg handed out, "Given that the language refers to a 'transportation project,' this precludes developing a list of projects. If the county would like to raise funds for another transportation project after the first one is completed, the board would need to hold a public hearing and vote to impose the tax for that additional project."
The commissioners acknowledged that state and federal funding cannot be used for three-digit roads, and that it is the county's responsibility to maintain them.
The engineer related, "The beauty of the wheelage tax is that you can use it to repair three-digit roads."
Commissioner Randy Dahl cited, "At this time, I support both...they would give us the flexibility we need, because there are multiple examples of a bridge in the county needing repairs or replacement at $20,000, but then we have to spend $60,000 for someone to come and tell us we can't repair or replace it."
He went on to note that repairing or preserving existing road surfaces is "paying for vehicle repairs upfront" instead of having to actually make them, as traveling unmaintained roads can cause vehicle wear that results in greater personal expenses.
Furthermore, the state's infrastructure is deteriorating enough that while no transportation funding package has come from the Legislature, action is necessary on the counties' parts, the commissioners observed.
A decision on the wheelage tax has an Aug. 1 deadline, and the local-option sales tax, a July 1 deadline with a 90-day delay.
Commissioner Tom Kaase stated, "I think we need to educate people on why this is needed, or all they'll hear is 'new taxes', and road preservation is something that we've put off. If we don't keep them in good shape..."
Commissioner Marc Prestby said, "I'm really not in favor of both. Actually, I'm really not in favor of either...the State Legislature isn't doing its job, so it pushes the responsibility out to the counties."
Commissioner Duane Bakke commented that the longer the state delays providing funding for projects, the more expensive those projects become, making it more difficult to find money to complete them.
The board chose to table the matter for the moment and continue the discussion as the month goes on.
Gregg also requested an amendment to the resolution approved during the June 3 meeting for the replacement of a bridge in Preble Township, which the commissioners accepted.
The board then heard from Greg Dornink of the Fillmore County Agricultural Society who appeared before them to inquire about assistance with the costs of repainting the Fillmore County Fairgrounds' livestock building. He explained the society had obtained bids that ranged from $10,000 to $32,000, but would like to repaint the roof before the 2014 Fillmore County Fair.
Dahl likened painting the roof to maintaining a vehicle, Kaase observed that "it's been 13 years since they've asked for anything," and Prestby pointed out that the organization receives a yearly appropriation from the county.
Dahl said, "I'm not against it, but I wish it could have been included in our budget and tax levy."
He made a motion to honor the request for assistance, with the condition that any future requests be made while the county is doing its budgeting.
Next, it became Fillmore County auditor and treasurer Shirl Boelter's task to find the funding for the roof, according to the commissioners.
Boelter also approached the board to ask that the review and approval of notice to cities for the 2014 proposed list of tax-forfeited properties for sale be put off until she has had a chance to confer with finance departments, as this year's sale will include properties of value. The commissioners agreed to allow the postponement.
Zoning administrator Chris Graves presented an application for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's (MPCA) subsurface treatment systems grant for $18,500.
County coordinator Bobbie Vickerman presented proposals to adjust the non-union employees' pay plan by 2 percent and to advertise for a replacement Public Health nurse.
The board accepted the pay plan, however Bakke cited that several employees have been collecting compensation for time beyond the end of the workday.
He acknowledged that the work done by county employees is never-ending and that they work hard, but the pay overages are becoming a bit problematic.
Vickerman said the process of hiring a Public Health nurse is particularly difficult in the first place because the replacement the board is seeking is an administrative position and requires a four-year degree, but also because Fillmore County is so close to the Mayo Clinic and other medical centers which pull from the pool of qualified applicants.
The commissioners approved payment of an invoice from Kennedy & Graven in the amount of $1,135.92 for the Greenleafton septic system project.
In reviewing the commissioners' warrants, the question was raised as to why there was a charge for veterinary services from the Spring Valley Veterinary Clinic and Sheriff Darryl Jensen explained the county received the bill because the sheriff's department had handled an animal welfare matter that required veterinary intervention. He added that the reimbursement would be reconciled through the department.
The commissioners closed the meeting to hold a labor contract strategy session for Local #85 Law Enforcement Labor Services.
The next county board meeting, set for Tuesday, June 24, will take place at 2:30 in the afternoon instead of at its regularly-scheduled time of 9 a.m. due to other county department meetings being slated for that morning. The board of appeals and equalization is on the calendar for 6:30 that evening.