Brown County Board approves wheelage tax

NEW ULM – Brown County commissioners unanimously approved a wheelage tax of $10 per vehicle Tuesday.

The 2013 Legislature approved the expansion of the wheelage tax authority to all 87 Minnesota counties, as of January 2014. The tax applies to most vehicles except motorcycles, trailers and collector vehicles.

“We’re starting to fall behind. If we let roads go, it costs more to rebuild them later,” Brown County Highway Engineer Wayne Stevens said. “This won’t solve the problem but it will help us get more projects done.”

Commissioner Jim Berg said he preferred a wheelage tax to using county property tax money for highway projects.

It is estimated that Brown County’s 28,600 vehicles subject to the tax would yield about $286,000 a year for transportation expenses.

The new draft Five-Year Construction Program shows an unmet need of $18,950,000 in transportation projects that should be in the five-year plan but are not due to the funding shortage.

In other action, commissioners:

Set aside a Local Option Sales Tax, which was approved by the 2013 Legislature. It gave county government the authority to impose the tax following public hearings. Referendum (votes) are not needed to approve the tax.

The tax rate can be up to one-half of 1 percent. Tax proceeds must be dedicated exclusively to a specific transportation or transit project and must terminate when revenues are sufficient to fund the project.

Increased county probation officers and social worker on-call rates to $110 per weekend. Probation officers are required to be “on call” on weekends. They receive phone calls from law enforcement asking if someone should be held in jail, detention or released; electronic monitoring firms call about people using or absconding; parents call on curfew, absconding or use violations; and other probation officers seeking case advice.

Family Services Director Tom Henderson said state laws require social workers to provide child protection services around the clock. He said Brown County rates are similar to surrounding counties.

Approved adding a part-time BA social worker and family-based worker for up to 25 hours a week to the 2014 budget. Workers would be involved with child protection and the Parent Support Outreach Program (PSOP).

Last year, Brown County Family Services received a $25,000 a year, five-year PSOP grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS). The grant is based on the number of child protection reports that are “screened in” during the year.

This year, the Legislature made the grant statewide and the DHS changed funding from a grant to an allocation, based on open PSOP cases the previous year.

The PSOP program targets families with children under age 10 and at risk of maltreatment. Last year, BCFS served 26 families and spent the entire grant. Funds went for buying basic needs like food, rent, clothing, utilities, gas and medication plus family-based staff salaries.

The program should reduce out-of-home placement costs by preventing families from entering the system and freeing up child protection social workers so they can provide more intensive work with families already in the system. Preventing one child from entering foster care saves the county $10,000 to $20,000 a year.

Approved drainage ditch repair requests of $18,487.65 to replace 400 feet of tile in County Ditch 75, Section 17, Milford Township, and $1,563 to fix a tile hole in CD 52, Section 29, North Home Township.

The CD 75 repair was difficult tile replacement due to quicksand conditions that required the contractor to move equipment in and out of the project several times. The CD 52 repair was normal maintenance repair.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at

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