Bumpy times?

Bumpy times?
The idea of enacting a wheel tax in Clay County didn't receive a warm reception at a public input meeting held March 27 in the basement of Clay County Courthouse.

It's difficult to gauge just how popular, or unpopular, the Clay County's idea of enacting a $16 per vehicle wheel tax is among county residents, however.

There apparently aren't too many people concerned about such a tax – yet. There were only a handful of citizens at the March 27 meeting.

"We've got some serious road projects that we've got to deal with," Jerry Sommervold, chairman of the county commission, told the small audience. "Our cost factors have gotten ridiculously high, and we've got to come up with some more funding on the county level if we're going to get any of these projects done in our lifetime."

The county has put several road projects on hold because of lack of funding, but the time has come to complete some projects that have a hefty price tag.

Those projects include Fairview Avenue, the west half of Timber Road, 452nd Avenue and the 313 Street.

Bids for the 302 Street project are scheduled to be let this spring. That project may cost approximately $3 million to complete. The county's total annual operating budget is approximately $4.3 million.

Commissioners also want to make sure that the county's farm-to-market roads are in good shape once the Glacial Lakes ethanol plant in completed.

It is estimated that a wheel tax would bring in $200,000 annually to the county that could be earmarked for road and bridge development and repair. Sommervold said that total doesn't seem like much, but the county could borrow a larger sum of money to pay for a major project and use the wheel tax revenue as a reliable loan payment source.

Citizens noted that some of the damage to county roads comes from farmers who own property in Clay County, but don't live here. They license their trucks, and perhaps even pay wheel taxes on vehicles used for planting and harvest in their home counties. It was noted that these people would continue to damage county roads without paying Clay County's wheel tax.

"There's nothing that we can do as a county," Sommervold said. The only remedy Clay County may receive from out-of-state farmers would be a portion of the fuel tax they pay.

James Kinney told commissioners he would be against a wheel tax because it is regressive.

"It's based on vehicles, not the value, and it's also not based on the miles you drive," he said. "It (the wheel tax) doesn't really tax people based according to how much they use, and the fuel tax does. I notice out in the country that a lot of these students come in, and most of them are from out-of-county, so you aren't really going to get a lot of them, because a huge number of those students get their licenses from someplace else."

Government spending, Kinney added, should be based on the productivity of the county. According to agricultural statistics in Clay County, productivity hasn't been that great over the years, he said, because of flooding and poor drainage.

"What we're trying to do is build and maintain a good highway system for the citizens of the county," Sommervold said.

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