Residents speak out about proposed sales tax

Published 10:29 am Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Commissioners slated to vote on issue on Aug. 18

Area residents raised concerns Tuesday morning over funding of local roads in light of a proposed half-cent sales tax for road repair in Freeborn County.

Concerns over state funding were also raised during a public hearing in front of the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners.

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“I am neutral when it comes to  this,” said Albert Lea resident Jim Swenson of the proposed sales tax increase. “We need the money. It irks me when the state acts as if we don’t need the money.”

Ryan Nolander

Ryan Nolander

The proposed half-cent sales tax is expected to raise $2 million annually for county roads. The proposal comes as taxes are being cut at the state level, and costs are being shifted to the local taxpayers, Swenson said.

He said increasing taxes to pay for improving roads and bridges is necessary.

“If you’re going to use it, you have to fix it,” Swenson said.

Harold Kamrath of Albert Lea doesn’t support the proposed sales tax.

Kamrath suggested shifting some of the money allotted for dredging Fountain Lake to help roads.

Kamrath said he was also in support of finding efficiencies out of what he said were inefficiencies. He suggested the county could close a road or a bridge to help maintain roads and bridges.

Commissioners plan on gathering public opinion before considering a resolution approving the tax Aug. 18.

Glen Mathiason

Glen Mathiason

Prior to considering a resolution approving the tax, commissioners must consider a resolution approving projects in a road plan or a road project that the tax will help with.

Freeborn County Commissioner Mike Lee said there is annually about a $6 million deficit in road projects that need to be completed. The tax is expected to raise about $2 million of that amount, leaving a roughly $4 million annual deficit in projects needing completion.

“This is a state problem that is coming down to us,” said Ryan Nolander, Albert Lea Economic Development Agency executive director, of the deficit. “We are either going to have to have a large property tax increase or the sales tax to help fund our roads and bridges.”

The state needs to have a transportation plan, Nolander said. He said a funding mechanism still has to be decided for any transportation plan.

Freeborn County Commissioner Glen Mathiason supports the proposed sales tax and said the landscape of county roads may change if the county continues to run a road-funding deficit. “With the number of miles of asphalt we have, if we continue to run this shortfall, there’s a possibility of us having to go back to gravel roads,” Mathiason said. “I don’t want to see that. I understand the sales tax isn’t the most popular idea, but citizens outside the county will also contribute.”

The cost of repairing roads has increased dramatically in his approximately 15 years on the board, Mathiason said.

He said the proposed tax has widespread support from the commissioners.

In 2014, the county began collecting a tax from residents with motor vehicles, called a wheelage tax, that is also going toward road repairs.

The tax involves $10 per car or truck that is ordinarily stored or parked in Freeborn County during non-business hours or when not in use, according to a previous article.

It is paid at the time of tab renewals and doesn’t apply to all-terrain vehicles, boat trailers, collector cars, motorcycles, mopeds or trailers.

Fillmore, Olmsted, Rice and Steele Counties have already implemented the tax.

It is unclear if the commissioners will keep this tax if the sales tax is approved.

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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