Commissioners turn down sales tax for roads

NEW ULM – By a 2-3 vote Tuesday, Brown County commissioners turned down Tuesday a local option sales tax that would have raised up to an estimated $1.5 million a year for transportation projects.

Commissioners Scott Windschitl, Andrew Lochner and Richard Seeboth voted against the measure that could have added up to a half-cent sales tax to generate funds for county highway improvement projects.

“We already have a wheelage tax. I don’t feel the area supports another tax. It puts business at a competitive disadvantage,” Seeboth said.

Windschitl said he favored a 50-50 match instead of another tax.

“Put pressure on state representatives. This may be an option down the road,” he said.

Commissioner Dennis Potter said if county highway project funding gets too far behind, the county may have to bond for future projects.

“What other options do we have?” Commissioner Jim Berg asked. “I’d prefer a sales tax over a real estate tax.”

Brown County Highway Department Engineer Wayne Stevens said Blue Earth County is considering a local option sales tax for transportation.

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 it set aside a sales tax.

Stevens told commissioners in 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 over the past decade and focused mostly on bituminous paving surfaces. 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.

Some of the larger projects on the County’s five-year program and their costs,which are above the annual budget are $3.2 million for CSAH 29 from TH 4 to CSAH 12; $3.5 million, CSAH 13 New Ulm to Hanska; $2 million, CSAH 13 north of New Ulm; $4.5 million, CSAH 6 and 13 Hanska to Lake Hanska; and $2.15 million, CSAH 17 east and west of Comfrey.

The 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.

In other action, commissioners approved

A resolution authorizing Brown County to enter into a MnDOT permit providing for limited use of certain Trunk Highway 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, 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) which deals with filing property liens.

The letter stated 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 stated 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.

The letter also expressed concern for lost county revenue, and effects to the employment of local citizens in the county offices. It 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, and the need for more secure computer systems.

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

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