Starting in 2020, Carlton County residents will pay $15 more for vehicle registration.

Carlton County commissioners Dick Brenner, Marv Bodie and Mark Thell voted Tuesday, July 23, to combine the wheelage tax, which will cover $450,000 of the Barnum maintenance facility project, and the local-option half-cent sales tax, which will cover the remaining $150,000.

Commissioners Tom Proulx and Gary Peterson voted against it.

The Barnum facility, originally built in 1975 and expanded in 1978, is outdated, too small and has safety issues.

Three financing options were presented to the commissioners for the project:

  • Add a levy to county property taxes;
  • Implement a wheelage tax, which would be paid when residents buy registration tabs for their vehicles;
  • Implement a local-option half-cent sales tax.

The wheelage tax is paid solely by Carlton County residents. The local-option sales tax is paid by anyone who makes taxable purchases in the county, including anyone visiting the county and those who reside outside the county, but own property in the county.

Proulx was the first to make a motion. He heard from several of his constituents who said they want the project funded through the local-option sales tax so they would not pay more in taxes.

“Since we can build the Barnum shop without any additional tax on the county taxpayers,” Proulx said, “I make a motion to use the existing sales tax to fund the project, with no tax impact.”

No one seconded the motion.

Next, Thell made a motion to enact a $15 wheelage tax and combine it with the local-option sales tax. He said 27 counties in Minnesota are already doing something similar.

Peterson said he doesn't support using any of the local-option sales tax for the building. He said it should only be used for the long list of county road projects.

“There’s a lot of people up here who have property, cabins and different things — they would be affected by the wheelage tax,” Peterson said. “I would go for $10 off of wheelage and $10 off of the levy. I can't support taking any money from the half-cent sales tax. A lot of my constituents have let me know that.”

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

After more discussion, the motion passed.

Carlton County Attorney Lauri Ketola said she is meeting with Fryberger, Buchanan, Smith & Frederick P.A. of Duluth for bond counsel Thursday, July, 25. She said they can help decide how best to bond larger projects such as the jail and the Barnum maintenance facility.

Ketola added it will be beneficial to the county that they are well-prepared in advance. She talked with several counties who have had recent jail projects and they all advise using bond counsel.

“This is a huge project with a lot of big things to keep track of,” Carlton County Coordinator Dennis Genereau said. “We want to be sure to do the right thing at the right time.”