County eyes new tax

FAIRMONT – Martin County commissioners have until Aug. 1 to decide if they want to implement a wheelage tax of $10 per vehicle, which would be added to drivers’ registration fees.

The tax would generate about $200,000 per year for Martin County, which would be spent on county roads.

With cuts in state aid, counties are falling further and further behind on road improvements, according to Martin County Engineer Kevin Peyman.

“This could help us catch up,” he said.

Commissioners plan to vote on the tax at their next meeting, 9 a.m. July 16.

Metro areas have been allowed to collect the wheelage tax for years, but the option just opened up for Greater Minnesota.

“I suspect every county is going to be doing it in the future,” said Commissioner Elliot Belgard.

An alternative now available to counties is a local option sales tax for transportation that would be exclusively for roads. Peyman estimated the sales tax would generate about $1 million per year for Martin County. While the revenue would certainly be helpful for improvements to county roads, Peyman recommended against the sales tax for fear of its negative impact on businesses.

“It could put local businesses at risk if we are the only one in the area doing that,” Peyman said.

The wheelage tax is a flat fee, and there are several exemptions, including motorcycles and trailers. The money in Martin County would be designated for widening and paving shoulders.

“I’m in favor of this,” said Commissioner Steve Pierce, “and I like the idea of this money being designated.”

Belgard agreed: “I think that $10 is easily justifiable to the people using these roads.”

Echoing their enthusiasm was Commissioner Dan Schmidtke, who said he has spent years searching for ways to gain funding for local roads.

“Nobody wants more taxes, nobody wants more fees,” he said, “but this is just $10. That’s not going to hurt anybody.”

Peyman also updated commissioners about county road projects for 2013. Because of the weather, construction is about four weeks behind, he said, though contractors are still confident they can complete their work by their September deadline.

In other business, commissioners:

o Approved conditional use permits for expansions at Tim Steuber Pork, Inc. and Bentdale Farms, both of rural Truman.

o Approved a maintenance support agreement for $12,000 with Election Systems & Software of Omaha, Neb., for four years. The agreement relates to the county’s election equipment and software.

o Received a 2014 request for funds from Minnesota Valley Action Council for $11,869, an 11 percent increase over the group’s 2013 request.