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County board approves increase in wheelage tax

The Freeborn County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved a $5 per vehicle increase in the county’s wheelage tax that will go toward addressing the gap in funding for road repairs in the county. 

The $15 annual tax will be for cars and trucks subject to annual registration and taxation, based on where the vehicle is ordinarily stored or parked during non-business hours or when not in use. The prior rate was $10 per vehicle. The tax does not apply to motorcycles, mopeds, trailers, boat trailers, collector cars or all-terrain vehicles.

The county board first approved the $10 wheelage tax in 2013, which was the maximum amount allowed at that time. Counties are now able to approve up to $20 per vehicle. 

Freeborn County Highway Engineer Phil Wacholz said it is his responsibility to present funding alternatives to the commissioners to make sure they’re doing everything they can to maintain the county’s roads but recognized that ultimately the state and federal governments need to do more to maintain roads. 

Wacholz said Freeborn County ranks 13th highest in road miles across the state out of 87 counties and is 38th highest in population. 

He said the county’s current road construction budget is about $7 million annually, which allows mostly rehabilitation work of county roads. However, more of the roads need reconstruction work done, which is about 30% higher in cost. He estimated the county had an roadway need funding gap of $2.1 million. 

“It is one tool in the toolbox,” Wacholz said of the wheelage tax.

He proposed approving the full $20 allowed per vehicle, which would have raised $300,000 annually — or 14% of the funding gap each year.

Fifty-three counties currently have the wheelage tax, and of that number, 15 have imposed the full $20 tax. 

Commissioner John Forman motioned to raise the tax from $10 to $15 per year, and Commissioner Ted Herman seconded. 

Forman recognized the tight budgets all around and said it would give the county the opportunity to explore more state and federal funding as well. 

Second District Commissioner Dan Belshan said though he thought the wheelage tax was unfair for people who own multiple vehicles, it is another funding source that the county needs and there has been improvement since it was first passed in 2013. He said he supports the gas tax which imposes a tax on people who drive on the roads.

“If you don’t drive you don’t pay,” he said. 

The increase in the wheelage tax goes into effect for 2022.

In other action, the board:

  • Approved an amendment with SRF Consulting Group for $475,460 for continued engineering and construction oversight services for the Bridge Avenue reconstruction project. 

Wacholz said the completion date for the project has been extended to July 1, 2022, which expands the scope of engineering services that will be needed from SRF. Wacholz said all except for the final lift of bituminous over the road will need to be completed by Sept. 24, 2021.

He said the original completion date for construction was Aug. 4, 2021. 

Wacholz said Ulland Bros., the contractor for the project, initially thought it would be able to complete the project within the time frame, but once started quickly realized it was not realistic to do so. 

It was the only company to bid on the project. 

The county engineer stated the county has saved about $395,956 through a change order, which included a deduction of $285,000 for the change in the completion date. The other savings were from taking a harder look at the project and cutting back on things such as special landscaping, lighting units, making the flower boxes smaller and changing the type of sod put in. 

Wacholz said subtracting the savings from the additional consulting costs and the county will need to spend an additional $80,000. 

Wacholz said the crews were putting the third of four layers of bituminous on the road Tuesday on Bridge Avenue through Richway Drive and planned to paint lines on the road on Monday or Tuesday of next week. 

For the week of the Freeborn County Fair, the road will be open through Richway Drive and then Richway Drive will be open east and west. He encouraged people to use Freeborn County Road 20, which connects to Richway Drive and to stay off of Greenwood Drive if possible during the fair. Parking will also be available at the high school as in the past. 

Belshan questioned whether there would be a four-way stop put in at the intersection of Bridge Avenue and Hawthorne Street, and Wacholz said that had not been discussed yet, but noted there were center turning lanes at that intersection. 

Belshan said he thought it would be necessary during the fair and also said he planned to bring up a motion for a four-way stop permanently at the intersection at a later time. 

  • Accepted the resignations of Ley Paw with the Freeborn County Public Health Department, Larry Lahs as a Freeborn County jail detention deputy, Andrew Yost as a feedlot officer for Freeborn County Environmental Services and David Olson as a custodian with the Maintenance Department. 

The board voted to refill the detention deputy and feedlot officer positions.

  • Approved amending a conditional use permit to Krown Inc. for a 70-by-200-foot storage structure and an additional 30,000-gallon tank at 67001 310th St.,  Hartland. 
  • Accepted a donation of $750 from Cargill to the Freeborn County Crime Victims Crisis Center.