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St. Louis County Board advances new 'wheelage' tax on vehicles

St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday kept alive a new tax that would charge most drivers in the county a $10 tax per vehicle to help boost county road construction projects.

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(2012 file / News Tribune)

St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday kept alive a new tax that would charge most drivers in the county a $10 tax per vehicle to help boost county road construction projects.

The board voted 3-2 as a committee of the whole to forward the new wheelage tax to the full board meeting July 30 in Floodwood. With two board members absent for Tuesday's vote, it's not clear what the final outcome will be.

The new tax would raise an estimated $1.5 million annually dedicated to county road construction projects.

Until now, only Twin Cities metro counties had the authority to levy a $5 wheelage tax. Only Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Scott and Washington counties have actually charged their drivers. But county commissioners across the state are now mulling the idea to help fill their coffers after the 2013 Minnesota Legislature expanded the option to all 87 counties, up to $10 per car or truck, with all proceeds to road construction.

The new county tax could not take effect until 2014 registrations. The board needs to act this month because lawmakers enacted an Aug. 1 deadline to assess the tax for 2014.

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Commissioner Steve Raukar of Hibbing said the county needs to act now to take full advantage of the new opportunity to help rebuild the many dilapidated roads throughout the county. Using money from a wheelage tax is more equitable than using property taxes to fix roads, he said. Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth agreed.

"It's a tax on the people using the roads," Jewell said.

But Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township said county taxpayers are paying enough already, and he said county road repairs are advancing without the new tax. Nelson noted there is also no guarantee that future County Boards couldn't simply reduce the road budget in coming years by the same amount, with no real increase in road spending. Commissioner Pete Stauber of Hermantown agreed.

Commissioners Raukar, Jewell and Mike Forsman of Ely voted to send the resolution to the full board. Stauber and Nelson voted against it. Commissioners Chris Dahlberg and Steve O'Neil were absent for the vote.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
John Myers reports on the outdoors, natural resources and the environment for the Duluth News Tribune. You can reach him at jmyers@duluthnews.com.
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