Commissioners OK new tax for roads

Published 1:59 pm Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Starting in January, Freeborn County residents with motor vehicles will have to pay an additional tax toward road repairs.

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday voted 3-2 to approve what has been called a wheelage tax. Commissioners Dan Belshan and Jim Nelson voted against.

The tax, which the Legislature recently expanded beyond the Twin Cities’ metro counties, would be $10 per car or truck that is ordinarily stored or parked in Freeborn County during non-business hours or when not in use. The tax would be paid at the time of tab renewals and would not apply to motorcycles, mopeds, trailers, boat trailers, collector cars or all-terrain vehicles.

Email newsletter signup

Freeborn County Administrator John Kluever estimated the tax would bring in about $290,000 a year based on an estimated 29,000 vehicles that would be eligible.

Commissioner Chris Shoff said the money raised would go toward an estimated $2.9 million funding gap needed to maintain the county roads.

Though he acknowledged a need for good roads, Belshan called the tax unfair, saying it is disguised as a user fee, but instead is a parking fee.

He said under the tax a smart car weighing 1,600 pounds, a pickup weighing 5,000 pounds and a loaded semi weighing more than 70,000 pounds would all pay the same yearly wheelage tax. He didn’t like that the tax wasn’t based on weight or axels or damage done to a road.

“We all want funding for good roads,” he said. “But this unfair tax puts the burden on the backs of low income and multi-vehicle families.”

Nelson kept his opinion simple.

“I think it’s a tax, and I don’t like adding tax,” he said.

Shoff, who motioned for the tax, said he was concerned with what the Legislature would do if counties didn’t pass the measure.

“They will say we offered counties an area where they can raise money for their transportation system, and they didn’t take it,” he said.

Commissioner Mike Lee asked what $10 would mean to people to try to keep roads safe, noting that people can buy a couple packs of cigarettes for $10.

“I think we need to do all we can, and I don’t think $10 is really going to break anybody,” Lee said.

County governments will have the option of raising the tax to $20 in 2018. The state will collect the money and reimburse it back to the county monthly.

Lawmakers also recently made it possible for Minnesota’s counties to impose a retail sales tax of a half-cent per $1 to help pay for transportation and transit projects. There was no discussion about this option at the meeting.