Wheelage tax comes to a screeching halt - for nowA proposed wheelage tax for Carlton County has failed for lack of support, though commissioners pledged to revisit the issue next year.
By: Wendy Johnson, Pine Journal
A proposed wheelage tax for Carlton County has failed for lack of support, though commissioners pledged to revisit the issue next year. According to the state of Minnesota, the board would have had to make a decision regarding the tax by August in order to impose it for the coming year. The tax would charge $10 for every vehicle registered in the county in order to raise revenue for local road projects — an estimated $300,000 annually. The concept was approved by the Minnesota State Legislature earlier this year. Individual counties have the right to determine whether or not to impose the tax.
Commissioner Gary Peterson said he didn’t believe the county yet has enough information on the tax and its possible implications for county residents. He suggested the county instead consider a half-cent sales tax that would also draw on outside motorists who pass through the county for revenue rather than leaving it strictly on the shoulders of the county’s residents.
County Engineer Mike Tardy said commissioners should have more time to educate their constituents on the wheelage tax before deciding to enact it, something he said could not be done before the Aug. 1 deadline for this year. He said only about two dozen counties in the state have already approved the wheelage tax, including Itasca County in northern Minnesota.
Tardy added, however, that the need for some additional means of augmenting the county’s road improvement revenue is becoming more crucial. Tardy said about one third of the county’s approximately 70 miles of roads are currently in poor condition, and another third will likely fall into that category within the next 10 years. He added the county will be updating its five-year road improvement plan this coming winter, and he is hopeful more specific information will then be available regarding future road improvement costs.
At the end of a brief discussion, the board took no action on the wheelage tax proposal.
Also at Tuesday’s board meeting, Land Commissioner Greg Bernu announced that some 30 inspectors from the United States Department of Agriculture were set to descend on the Moose Lake Airport on Thursday with an eye toward using it as a demonstration site for the control of noxious weeds that have threatened to take over the area.
Bernu said the county has utilized the airport grounds to trial the biological control of leafy spurge and spotted knapweed, both of which Bernu said have begun to proliferate the dry, sandy soils in the southern half of the county and have begun to work their way up the I-35 corridor.
Leafy spurge is an invasive plant that can dominate desirable vegetation. It can take over pastures and natural areas and is toxic to cattle, rendering the forage where it grows virtually unusable and resulting in an economic loss to farmers. Spotted knapweed is an invasive plant, native to Europe and Asia, that can be spread by wind, water, wildlife, vehicles, contaminated hay, farm machinery, gravel distribution, logging equipment and road construction and is becoming a common weed in roadsides and pastures.
Bernu explained that several years ago the county decided to begin a program to control the weeds through biological control agents — namely, beetles and weevils. He said some 100,000 of the deer-tick-sized bugs were released, in hopes of weakening and hopefully eradicating the noxious weeds. The beetles and weevils essentially attack and eat the stems of the leafy spurge and spotted knapweed. Bernu said the county has experienced some success through use of the beetles and weevils, and the USDA inspectors were interested in learning more about it.
The board set a public hearing to gather input on a proposed ATV trail in the Cromwell area. The trail would serve as a connector from the Fond du Lac State Forest into Cromwell and utilize county, township and city roadways. The hearing was set for 5 p.m. Monday, Aug. 26.
Commissioners unanimously approved tourism grant reimbursements for an event staged by the Oldenburg House in Carlton ($1,000) and the International Polka Fest ($840). A proposal to delegate $1,000 of the county’s economic development regional marketing funds toward a new electronic message board for Carlton Schools failed for lack of support.