Board approves wheelage tax by narrow vote

The State Legislature recently gave Minnesota counties more authority to levy a tax used solely for road maintenance, and Chisago County will be taking advantage of that tax next year.

By a 3-2 vote July 17, the Chisago County Board of Commissioners approved a $10 wheelage tax on vehicles kept within Chisago County. Commissioners Mike Robinson, Rick Greene and George McMahon voted in favor of the tax. Commissioners Ben Montzka and Lora Walker cast dissenting votes.

Greene called the tax a “user fee”

“You use the roads, you pay,” he said. “Also, this was in the budget and it was discussed to use this for the turn-back roads, to improve them.”

Robinson noted the board has to vote on the tax on a yearly basis, so if it doesn’t like the results, the tax could be nixed after 2014.

“If I would vote for this and if all the money for this would end up, for some reason, at the south end of the county a year from now, I would be voting no unless the money is spread out among the whole county, not just one area,” he said.

McMahon called the tax a “tool” for county boards to address ailing roads.

“We know that we have a $14 million a year problem and we have our levy dollars going to road maintenance,” he said. “This legislation is strictly for road maintenance; it’s not for building roads.”

Walker, who said she’s in favor of funding road construction, but not through a wheelage tax, said the tax is simply another example of passing the buck.

“I think this is a perfect example of the Legislature shifting responsibility to counties rather than taxing citizens directly for the roads that should be funded at the state level,” she said. “I wouldn’t suggest that we open this window, as a county board, that easily becomes a door we cannot close.”

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