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Polk County OKs vehicle tax; commissioner says tax is 'user fee' for road repairs

CROOKSTON -- Polk County commissioners authorized a new "wheelage" tax Tuesday that will cost residents $10 per vehicle owned.

The tax will take effect Jan. 1.

Funds raised with the new tax will be put toward the maintenance or repair of county highways. The county estimates the tax would raise $304,000 from the 30,400 vehicles that may be taxed.

County Commissioner Don Diedrich said at Tuesday's meeting that he favors reducing current funding for highway maintenance in light of the extra tax dollars. The money saved could be used for other projects.

Commissioners Craig Buness and Warren Strandell disagreed, saying the new funds should be added to the current maintenance budget.

At the end of the meeting, the board voted unanimously in favor of the tax, deciding to discuss the possibility of reducing current highway funding at a later time.

The board had until Aug. 1 to decide whether to pass the tax. Beginning in 2018, Minnesota counties that have adopted the wheelage tax will be given the power to raise the tax to $20 per vehicle.

Given the choice between collecting the tax directly and having the state collect the tax on the county's behalf, the board showed interest in giving the responsibility to the state -- as other counties that have adopted the tax have decided to do.

"The one good thing about the wheelage tax is that it stays local," said Buness, noting that local highways will benefit from the tax.

He called the tax a "user-fee" because those paying to maintain county roads will the ones driving on the roads.