by HANNAH BROADBENT
In mid-April, the county board proposed to implement a half percent sales tax option (excluding vehicle purchases), a $20 excise fee and $20 wheelage tax for transportation. After a public hearing at that meeting the board decided to change the wheelage resolution to only benefit state highways. They left the proposal to be voted on May 2, 2017.
The resolution passed with a three to two vote.
It was not an easy vote for the board to make and was cause for about an hour of discussion. Though the public hearing was closed a few citizens did come to make a last effort at having their opinions heard.
Pete Paris of Waconia came once again to speak to the board. He has been a resident on Airport Rd. for 37 years and says he has seen a constant increase in traffic. He supports the proposal for safety and efficiency.
“We are in need of a strong leadership to show that the county is trying to provide their share of investment,” Paris said.
Public Works director Lyndon Robjent stressed that the money these taxes and fees would provide is just seed money. He said the money the county will continue to apply for large grants from the state and federal levels.
“We will not let them off the hook,” he said. “We will leverage this funding.”
A Chaska resident sided with Paris, saying his time and safety were more important than the few cents the sales tax would add.
Tina Diedrick of Norwood Young America was in opposition. She said why not wait until the state session on transportation is over.
“I’m not sure why we have to get this done now,” she said. “I have five kids and four cars and this will double their tabs.”
Commissioner Tom Workman and Chair Tim Lynch sided with Diedrick in opposition of this resolution.
“Most of what’s going on in transportation isn’t our problem at all, it is in fact the feds and state,” Workman said.
Workman and Lynch both stressed that as commissioners it is their job to keep taxes low for citizens. Lynch said once a tax it is implemented it cannot be reversed, his biggest concern was continuing to keep Carver County a desirable place to live.
Workman was unsure that the money from the taxes and fees would be able to ‘keep up with the problem’. He cited Diedrick in saying he also thinks they should wait the two and a half weeks to see what the state is going to do.
“I’m not willing to put the burden on the taxpayers at this point,” he said.
Commissioners Maluchnik, Degler and Ische were in favor of the proposal. They all agreed they don’t want to raise taxes but expressed disappointment in state and federal support.
“I’ve been sadly disappointed, they haven’t really done anything since 2008,” Maluchnik said.
“Nobody on this board wants to raise taxes but it’s the right thing to do,” Degler said.
Robjent reminded the board once more why the were voting on this resolution and what has changed in transportation.
“Competition is much higher,” he said. “All projects compete with each other.”
The sales tax and excise tax is set to last October 1, 2017 to September 30, 2037. The wheelage tax is scheduled for January 1, 2018 to December 31, 2037.
The project dates back to November 2016 when it was initially brought forward. The fees and taxes are meant to fund “construction” and “major rehab” for high priority projects for the next 20 to 30 years in Carver County.
The resolution states, “A safe, efficient and reliable transportation system is critical to the quality of life and economic vitally in Carver County, The County has prepared a long range roadway system plan that identifies improvement projects needed to preserve, enhance safety and improve mobility of the transportation system.”
The session on April 18, 2017 started with a presentation by Public Works Director, Lyndon Robjent, followed by a public hearing.
According to Robjent the number of projects grew to 34 after public feedback. The county labels these as “high priority”, they would use the sales tax, excise fee and wheelage tax as means of funding.
There is a significant amount of funding coming from outside sources,” Robjent said.
He says 50 to 60 percent of funding comes from state and federal entities. Robjent also added that if there would happen to be large-scale funding, they can “shut the taxes and fees off.”
“They (state) don’t have the funds, ” Robjent said. “We feel the county needs to come to the table and be a partner.”
In the 20 year plan the sales tax will be worth $83 million and the wheelage tax will add $21 million towards the projects. Together they would complete the $104 million-gap for the $421 million- budget for the years 2017-2037.
Robjent estimates that per year the sales and excise tax will raise $3.5 million and the wheelage provide $880,000 per year.
In Minnesota 15 counties have a transportation sales tax, 35 counties have a wheelage tax and 16 counties have both.
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