Carlton County has determined three possible options for taxpayers to fund the building of an estimated $10 million Barnum maintenance facility.

Carlton County Engineer JinYeene Neumann offered the options for the Barnum maintenance facility project to the Carlton County Board of Commissioners and residents during an open house Tuesday, July 9.

About 10 residents attended the open house, which started at 9 a.m. Although the open house was not included on the County Board meeting agenda, it was published as a public notice in the Moose Lake Star-Gazette on June 20 and 27.

The three options for funding the project include:

  • A levy added to county property taxes;
  • A wheelage tax, paid when residents buy tabs for their vehicles;
  • A local-option half-cent sales tax (LOST). Anyone who purchases taxable items in the county currently pays the half-cent sales tax. All of the sales tax is set aside exclusively for repairs and maintenance of county roads.

This row of snow plows sit roughly two blocks from the building where the trucks are parked. In the snowy season the drivers need to unhook the plows from the trucks as there is not enough room for the trucks with the plow attached to fit in the Barnum Maintence Facility. At 4 a.m. when they need to plow, the drivers need to drive the trucks out of the building and around back to hook the plows on before heading out to clear roads. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
This row of snow plows sit roughly two blocks from the building where the trucks are parked. In the snowy season the drivers need to unhook the plows from the trucks as there is not enough room for the trucks with the plow attached to fit in the Barnum Maintence Facility. At 4 a.m. when they need to plow, the drivers need to drive the trucks out of the building and around back to hook the plows on before heading out to clear roads. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

The maintenance facility, built in 1975 and added onto in 1978, is outdated, too small and has safety issues. The point of contention Tuesday was how residents want to pay for the project.

The 20 employees who work at the facility drive a total of 10 tandem trucks with snow removal equipment, four motor graders with snow removal equipment and six pickup trucks, which are stored in the 36,056-square-foot building. There are also 13 pieces of miscellaneous equipment.

The parking inside is so tight, the drivers need to remove their snow plows from the trucks so they can fit the trucks inside. The plows are left sitting outside to be reattached at 4 a.m. during the next snow.

Part of the issue is the size of the vehicles grew larger by several feet when they were replaced over the years. For example, in the 1970s, a plow truck was 21 feet long; the replacement in the 2000s was 39 feet long. The motor grader bought in the 1970s was 27 feet long, while the replacement in the 2000s was 39 feet long.

The plan for the Barnum Maintence Facility is to have a long section extend out from the building where the trucks are parked so it would be in the shape of an L. The building would go from 36,056 square feet to 50,184 square feet. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
The plan for the Barnum Maintence Facility is to have a long section extend out from the building where the trucks are parked so it would be in the shape of an L. The building would go from 36,056 square feet to 50,184 square feet. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

There is only one door for trucks to drive in and out. Once the trucks are inside, they need to back out. Other issues are mechanical and electrical, including lights, generator and fire alarm.

The proposed project includes a 50,184-square-foot building. The trucks would be able to park inside without removing plowing equipment.

“Ok, so a family where mom and dad have to work and their kid has to get to school, they have three cars and so they get hit three times, right?,” District 3 Commissioner Tom Proulx asked Nuemann. “So the middle class is going to pay for that, right?"

Nuemann said he answered his own question.

The residents who attended the meeting let their objections be known as to the use of the ½ cent sales tax to fund anything else besides the roads.

Judy Isaacson who lives on County Road 156 between Kettle River and Cromwell said she is concerned that if any of the half-cent sales tax is diverted to anything else besides county road maintenance and repair that it will take a lot longer to get her road repaired. Each spring the road is full of potholes and difficult to navigate. She said the bad road causes issues for the vehicles such as flat tires and more front end repairs from all of the bumping and jarring while driving. Isaacson said she thinks the county does a good job when they finally do get to her road.

“It goes on for several months every spring,” Isaacson said. She is hoping the ditches will be dug out soon to improve drainage and prevent the problem instead of coming out every spring to repair the damage.

A truck sits in a work bay at the Barnum Maintence Facility. If a plow had been attached to the front, it would have extended out of the work area. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
A truck sits in a work bay at the Barnum Maintence Facility. If a plow had been attached to the front, it would have extended out of the work area. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

Neumann explained the paved roads are top priority when repairs are needed because they have higher traffic than dirt roads.

Several members of the audience disagreed with that statement.

Neumann said Minnesota Department of Transportation does the traffic counts every few years for a two week time frame to help get an accurate traffic count. The county uses their information to decide which roads are a priority for repairs. There are currently 45 county road projects listed on the Carlton County Transportation Department website.

Several residents also expressed concern that if money was diverted to the Barnum facility project, other projects may take away from the roads projects in the future.

Neumann explained the use of the half-cent sales tax is very restricted by state law. It cannot be used to fund any other county projects in the future unless they specifically have to do with county transportation, like the roads and the Barnum Maintenance Facility project.

District 4 commissioner, Mark Thell said he discovered 50 counties in Minnesota currently use a wheelage tax.

District 5 commissioner, Gary Peterson expressed concern that many residents in his district own farms and use multiple vehicles.

Where do the commissioners stand on the options? Thell supports the wheelage tax, while Proulx said he supports the ½ cent sales tax so his constituents taxes do not go up. He said he has had residents calling very upset because they are afraid they will be taxed out of their homes.

Peterson said he would support a combination of wheelage and property tax levy. Chairman and District 1 commissioner Dick Brenner said he would support a wheelage tax and using a portion of the half-cent sales tax. Vice Chairman and District 2 commissioner Marv Bodie said he thinks using all three options is the best option.

The commissioners didn't take action Tuesday on funding the project.

Residents may offer feedback by contacting their commissioner before the next meeting July 22 at 4 p.m. in the Carlton County Transportation Building, 1630 Minnesota Highway 61, Carlton. The meeting is open to the public.

A work bay is open at the Barnum Maintence Facility. The building should  hold all 10 tandem trucks with snow removal equipment, four motor graders with snow removal equipment and six pick up trucks, which are stored in the building. There are also 13 pieces of miscellaneous equipment. The projected plan is to keep the current building and add an addition to the left so it will be in the shape of an L when completed. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal
A work bay is open at the Barnum Maintence Facility. The building should hold all 10 tandem trucks with snow removal equipment, four motor graders with snow removal equipment and six pick up trucks, which are stored in the building. There are also 13 pieces of miscellaneous equipment. The projected plan is to keep the current building and add an addition to the left so it will be in the shape of an L when completed. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal

3 funding options for Barnum maintenance facility

Option 1: Wheelage tax

The breakdown of the estimated tax added when a resident purchases their license plate tabs:

  • $20 per vehicle will bring in an estimated $600,000 a year;

  • $15 per vehicle will bring in an estimated $450,000 a year;

  • $10 per vehicle will bring in an estimated $300,000 a year.

There are exemptions to the wheelage tax: motorcycles, mopeds, trailers and semitrailers and vehicles that aren't subject to an annual registration, such as collector vehicles. The Fond du Lac license plates would be exempt, as well as other tax-exempt and state-owned vehicles.

Option 2: Local-option sales tax

A half-cent sales tax is levied on anything sold in the county that is subject to sales tax.

  • There is an estimated $2,000,000 currently collected in the county annually.

  • It originated as a funding source to pay for repairs and maintenance on county roads.

  • The use of this source to pay for the facility will cause delays for county road projects.

Option 3: Levy added to property taxes

  • The proposed 1% increase to residents' property taxes would generate an estimated $274,000 annually.

  • A residential homestead property valued at $100,000 or less would have an annual $5.98 property tax increase.

  • A residential homestead valued at $150,000 would have a $10.52 increase.

  • A residential homestead valued at $200,000 would have a $15.06 increase.

  • A residential homestead valued at $250,000 would have a $19.60 increase.

  • A residential homestead valued at $300,000 would have a $24.14 increase.