Six residents from Chisago County’s District 5 spoke at the board meeting June 19 imploring the board to allocate money to fix the roads in the area, but those pleas weren’t enough to sway the opinion of three of the four commissioners at the meeting.
Commissioner Mike Robinson asked the board to fund road improvement projects for county roads 2, 4 and 8, saying he’d be fine with any of those three projects being funded this year or in 2014, but his motions to secure funding for the proposed projects died due to a lack of a second. Commissioner Lora Walker was absent for the meeting.
“I inspected County Road 16 today (one of the roads included in the county’s Transportation Improvement Plan) and all three of these roads are in worse shape than 16,” he said. “And District 5 has 35 percent of the total miles of county roads and there’s basically no road projects in here (for District 5). It’s not quite fair.”
County Board Chairman Ben Montzka addressed Robinson’s comments, saying there are roads in every district of the county that could use repairs, but there simply isn’t enough money in the county’s coffers to address all of the projects at the same time.
David Pederson, of Harris, said the roads by his home are in dire need of repair.
“The road (County Highway 8) was going to get done three years ago, then it got put off a year, then it got put off another year, he said. “It’s like you don’t even know the northwest corner of the county exists. What do we get for our tax dollars up there? We don’t get squat.”
Pederson then suggested politics is the reason the roads aren’t getting repaired.
“Then I heard (the County Highway 8 project) was approved twice,” he said. “At the last minute, you unapproved it and there was a big stink. This road that was supposed to be done three years ago should have been done 15 years ago. I don’t know if it was political or if there was some vendetta going, but we need to reassess that and reapprove it.”
New revenue tools
During the latter part of the meeting, County Administrator Bruce Messelt presented the board with what he called new “tools” recently approved by the Legislature that could be used as sources of revenue for the county.
The first tool he mentioned — a half-cent local sales tax — the board nixed by a unanimous vote.
“I can’t think of a better way to kick our local businesses that are struggling to pay the high property tax,” Montzka said of the proposed sales tax.
The other tool — a $10 per vehicle wheelage tax — was more agreeable to the board.
The board voted 3-1 to have county staff research the tax and bring a resolution to the board at its July 17 meeting for consideration.
Robinson cast the dissenting vote.
Montzka explained his reasoning for supporting the wheelage tax: “I will support a wheelage tax, but I want to lay the gauntlet down that the support is going to be contingent on this board showing world-class leadership on the budget,” he said. “I want to see that the total tax bite to our residents will be the same. If this wheelage tax is going to generate some $500,000, I want to see a similar amount cut in the levy so the bite to the residents in the same. I think this, in that scenario, makes a lot of sense.”
Budget meeting dates
Also during the meeting the board identified the key dates in this year’s budget process.
• Aug. 7 — Draft budget from the county budget and finance committee needs to be prepared.
• Aug. 14 — Another budget and finance committee meeting, if needed, to prepare a draft budget.
• Aug. 21 — Meeting of the budget and finance committee to review the draft budget.
• Sept. 4 — Regular County Board meeting to consider the budget and adopt a preliminary levy.
• Sept. 11 — Special County Board meeting, if needed, to review the budget and adopt a preliminary levy.
• Dec. 4 — Truth In Taxation meeting.
• Dec. 4 or 18 — Final budget and levy to be adopted and certified by the state.