Douglas County commissioners will be voting on whether or not to implement an additional motor vehicle tax at their regularly scheduled board meeting on July 23. The topic was discussed and tabled on July 9. A decision must be made by August 1.
A "Wheelage Tax" is being considered by counties statewide. If approved in Douglas County, residents will be paying an additional $10 per vehicle to renew their license plate tabs beginning in 2014. The wheelage tax rate would remain at $10 until 2018 when counties have the option to increase the fee to $20. Counties can elect to continue the tax on a year by year basis.
"It's estimated to generate roughly $360,000 in 2014," said County Engineer and Public Works Director Dave Robley.
A resolution to authorize the tax cites motorist and pedestrian deaths due to dangerous roadways and "stagnant" state funding as reasons why Douglas County is considering the tax.
"At least we've gotten some legislation to help us work with these roads and bridges that have been neglected for so many years," said Commissioner Bev Bales.
Bales added that she is concerned that the state will penalize counties that choose to impose the wheelage tax by not distributing regular state funds for roads and bridges.
Money collected from the wheelage tax would be collected by the state and deposited into the county road and bridge fund to improve the quality of the county road system.
"I've got an issue with this simply because it is another tax," said Commissioner Jim Stratton.
Stratton said motor vehicle owners are being asked to subsidize projects like widening of roads that are also used by pedestrians and bicyclists. He said there are other ways to fund projects.
"It absolutely is a tax," Robley said. "We build roads and we pay for them. They aren't free."
Property tax is another source of revenue used for roadways, Robley said. However, property tax is restricted to the state aid highway system whereas the wheelage tax is unrestricted and can be used for maintenance and construction of roads and trails.
"It's $10 that when you pay it stays in Douglas County," Robley said.
Commissioner Jerry Johnson said the only way he would be in favor of the wheelage tax is if funds were used directly for building and maintaining local roads. "That is our biggest need," Johnson said.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.