On Jan. 1, 2014, Houston County will begin collecting a $10 Wheelage Tax on many vehicle registrations.

The new fee will even apply to vehicles stored permanently in the county by nonresidents. For example, a vehicle stored at a cabin would pay the additional fee to Houston County, even if the owner's home county has its own wheelage tax.

In order to do that, vehicle owners will be asked to identify the county where the vehicle is kept during the renewal process.

Some vehicles will not be subject to the tax, including motorcycles, mopeds, trailers and semitrailers, and vehicles not subject to annual registration such as collector vehicles, tax exempt and state-owned vehicles.

County commissioners held a public hearing on the measure on July 16 prior to voting. In a roll-call decision, only Chairman Justin Zmyewski cast a "no" ballot.

Joel Twaiten (formerly of Houston County) was the only person who spoke as a citizen during the hearing. He cited high property taxes.

"We have a few properties in Houston County, and we have several properties in the Phoenix area," Twaiten began. "Three houses in particular that we have in Arizona are in a golf course community, (they're) bigger than a house that we have in Houston, with taxes less than the house in Houston. That is a bit ridiculous.

"It's impossible for us to buy anything in Houston and rent it out and make it work. It's much easier in Arizona."

"I don't think we can afford to raise taxes," he continued. "I've talked to several people about the meeting today, and they said it's too bad that it's at 10 o'clock rather than at night.

"It would be nice if more people could attend. I've probably heard that from 30 to 40 people. I feel there are a lot of people who feel the same way as far as taxes are concerned in Houston County."

"There's no doubt that we need more revenue to try to offset the amount we're levying on the real estate side," Commissioner Steve Schuldt noted.

"I don't like any taxes, but I guess I'm in favor (of this) rather than raising money through additional property taxes."

"I'm very much against raising taxes in any way," Zmyewski said. "No matter what they call it, a tax is a tax. My biggest point is, I've always preached smart fiscal responsibility, and if we had that, I think it wouldn't be as big of an issue.

"With all of the things (happening), there's a need or a want to have more money to do more things. My greatest concern is, it's just another way of taxing the people to get more money to spend, when we haven't necessarily been spending the money smartly up to this point.

"We need to do something with that Highway Department," Commissioner Teresa Walter said, referring to the condition of the highway shop in Caledonia. "We have to do something, and we don't want to put it on the property taxes."

Zmyewski agreed that the facility is a problem, but added that there are ways to work with funds already available.

He suggested using $600,000 already saved towards a new highway headquarters to buy a used building on contract, rather than spending millions of dollars on new construction.

"The other way would be not to build a gigantic building, for example," he said.

"Is it the easy route to say, let's collect more money so we can get this done?"

"I think everybody here is working very hard to be fiscally responsible," Commissioner Judy Storlie countered.

"Everything we purchase costs more money," Schuldt said. "I don't know that we spend money foolishly... but just absolutely everything from fuel, to equipment, to supplies, everything simply costs more. I think the biggest reason our taxes went up is the change to the homestead (Market Value Homestead Credit)."

"Those are things we don't have any control over," Storlie said.

The Association of Minnesota Counties estimates that Houston County will collect $198,000 yearly with the tax, which will go directly to the county's highway purposes funds, as defined in article 14 of the Minnesota Constitution.

County commissioners cannot elect to set the fee any higher or lower, and may choose to have the county collect the tax directly or have the state collect it as part of the tab renewal process.

Beginning in 2018, the cap will be raised to $20 per vehicle, and counties will have the right to set the amount anywhere up to that point.