Vehicle tax gains approval

BLUE EARTH – Faribault County commissioners are the latest to pass the controversial “wheelage” tax, but it was not unanimous.

The board met Tuesday at the Faribault County Fairgrounds. Commissioners had discussed the wheelage tax on July 3, but a motion to approve it died for lack of a second. The deadline for passing the measure is Aug. 1.

The wheelage tax is a proposed $10 charge that will be assessed on eligible vehicles on Jan. 1. The money raised must be used for road construction in the county.

Commissioner John Roper wanted to know how many counties have passed the new tax.

“Approximately 30 counties have passed it,” said John McDonald, county engineer. “The list is constantly being updated.”

Martin County commissioners passed the tax last week.

McDonald said about 16,000 vehicles in Faribault County would qualify for the tax. Among those exempt are motorcycles, collector cars and government fleet vehicles.

Commissioner Tom Warmka said he had been making and receiving phone calls about the proposal.

“I had more people tell me it was the right thing to do,” he said.

He pointed out that many neighboring counties have passed the tax.

“That should tell us our state hasn’t done a good job of funding these roads,” Warmka said. “What I like about this is it can be removed quickly.”

“We are in a shortage situation in funding road maintenance,” said Commissioner Bill Groskreutz.

He added that “an 80-plus-year-old widow is paying the same amount to drive as a person who drives 80,000 [miles] a year. I don’t think it’s a fair tax, but it is a tax, not a user fee.”

“I think it’s a mistake,” argued Commissioner Tom Loveall. “My biggest concern is if we start a tax, we don’t get rid of it.”

“If anyone can tell us where we can find someone to fix our roads for free?” Warmka asked, then answered himself. “Not gonna find it. This is not going to fix our problem, but it will help.”

Roper and Warmka voted for the tax, Groskreutz and Loveall against, with chairman Greg Young breaking the tie with a yes vote.