County to consider local sales tax for roadways

NEW ULM – Brown County commissioners will begin the process to consider adopting a local option sales tax for transportation at their Tuesday meeting.

The board has discussed the lack of needed funding for highway projects many times. Last year, commissioners unanimously approved a $10 per vehicle annual wheelage tax for most vehicles except motorcycles, trailers and collector vehicles, but set aside a sales tax.

Brown County Highway Engineer Wayne Stevens told commissioners last June that his department was starting to fall behind in highway improvements and that the wheelage tax – estimated to generate $286,00 a year – won’t solve the problem, but will help get more projects done.

Due to lack of funding, the County has done little shoulder widening or grading during the past decade and focused mostly on bituminous paving surfaces, according to the Request for Board Action (RBA).

County road conditions averaged “fair” in 2009 and 2013, compared to “good” in 2005.

Unscheduled road projects in the County’s five-year road and bridge construction program are increasing each year, with current estimates showing a $19 million program shortfall, according to the RBA.

The half-cent sales tax would collect about $1.5 million a year in Brown County, according to the Transportation Alliance. Authority for a sales tax dedicated to transportation projects was passed by the 2013 Legislature. Referendums are not required, but a public hearing must be held before commissioners would consider the tax.

Commissioners will also consider:

A resolution authorizing Brown County to enter into a MnDOT permit providing for limited use of certain trunk highways for snowmobile trail use. Agreements address responsibilities and insurance requirements to protect the County to acquire, construct and maintain trails for the River Valley Dutchmen Snowmobile Club of New Ulm and the Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club of Springfield.

Drainage ditch repair requests of $240 for two bank slumps, JD 10, Section 10, Lake Hanska Township; $1,740, three broken side drains, JD 10, Section 13, Lake Hanska Township; $1,240, large ditch bank washout and side drain repair, JD 10, Linden Township; and $3,925, large ditch bank washout, side drain and ditch crossing repair, CD 70, Section 29, Cottonwood Township.

Approving a letter to Secretary of State Mark Ritchie requesting reversal of his decision to cancel a satellite office agreement regarding administration of the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC).

The letter states that by canceling satellite agreements, no longer will prompt, personalized service be available from county personnel to local UCC clients, including “off line” clients; and it is the County’s understanding that Richie’s action was done without prior dialogue with the Association of Minnesota County Recorders (MCRA) or their UCC Committee, and that countless County hours and expenses have been invested in the program.

The letter further states that security is a high priority at the county level with several departments handling sensitive data daily, but that UCC content is data public information, made available for public retrieval.

Lastly, the letter expresses concern of lost county revenue, and effects to the employment of local citizens in the county offices; and asked Ritchie to reverse the cancellation of satellite agreements and create an opportunity for open dialogue to reach an amicable solution for everyone involved.

Ritchie’s May 27, letter to the Brown County Recorder cited upgrading security measures to protect customers and recent large scale and damaging security breach issues in the public and private sectors cited by Legislature members and the Legislative Auditor, and reducing the number of people with UCC systems access, as the needs for more secure computer systems.

The county board meeting starts at 9 a.m., Tuesday, in the courthouse commissioners room.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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