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Renville County, Minn., approves wheelage tax

OLIVIA - Maintaining a road system that is the backbone for one of the state's leading agricultural counties comes at a big cost.

The Renville County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to adopt a $10 wheelage tax as allowed by the Legislature. It will be imposed through 2018.

The estimated $175,000 it will raise annually will be applied toward the interest costs on a $10 million bond issue the commissioners are considering to improve a portion of the county's road system.

Commissioner Randy Kramer, of Buffalo Lake, cast the lone vote against the $10-per-vehicle wheelage tax, although he joined the other commissioners in stating that increased revenues are needed to maintain the county's roads.

"We all agree with Randy and he is the only one who voted no,'' said Commissioner Paul Setzepfandt, of Bird Island.

Others voting yes were commissioners Bob Fox, John Stahl and Lamont Jacobson.

All five commissioners expressed their displeasure with the tax itself. They voiced concerns that the tax opens the door to placing a greater burden on counties. They cited concerns about its fairness as well, noting that small cars and heavy trucks all pay the same fee; and that urban counties have more vehicles to tax per mile of road maintained.

Renville County has 710 miles of county roads, including 395 paved miles, according to Marlin Larson, public works director.

There are 29,990 vehicles registered in the county, but only 17,537 will be subject to the wheelage tax, according to information presented at the meeting.

In contrast, more populous Kandiyohi County to the north will generate an estimated $400,000 annually with a $10 wheelage tax; it has a reported 215 miles of county roads, 37 miles paved.

The Renville County Commissioners also took action Tuesday to set a public hearing at 8 a.m. Aug. 13 on the proposed $10 million bond issue for its transportation needs.

Larson proposes overlay projects and mill and overlay projects on 78.5 miles of county roadway, both to lengthen the life of the roads and to improve the surface. The proposal includes work on portions of County Roads 1, 3, 6, 13, 16 and 20 - which are all county-state aid highways.

There was also discussion about possibly using bond funds for full reconstruction work. The commissioners would like to see portions of County Roads 4, 11 and 14 reconstructed - also county-state aid highways - but current funding does not allow for work in the next few years on those segments.

Larson noted that reconstruction costs are roughly $900,000 per mile, and would require two years of lead time before bids could be awarded. The overlay work, on the other hand, could be placed for bids in the coming two years.

The commissioners agreed to continue discussion on the possible slate of road projects, while voting in favor of proposing a 15-year, $10 million bond issue.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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