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County adopts wheel tax

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HUDSON -- Next year St. Croix County residents will pay an extra $10 when they renew their car's registration.

The new tax was approved Tuesday on a 19-11 vote of the County Board. A motion to delay County Board action until after an April referendum failed on a 9-21 vote.

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The fee will be collected by the state, along with its annual registration fee, which is now $55.

About 70,000 cars and small trucks are registered in St. Croix, so the county fee will bring in about $700,000 a year. The money is designated for highway maintenance.

"This is a tax," said River Falls Supervisor Chuck Struemke. "We can call it a fee, but when a government body takes money from its citizens, it's a tax."

At one time the county used over 29% of its property tax levy for highways, but this year it used only 16.25%, said Highway Commissioner Tim Ramberg.

With escalating hot mix and chip seal oil costs and limited state and county tax funding, St. Croix hasn't been able to keep to its maintenance goal of resurfacing 16 miles and chip sealing 54 miles of county roads each year, said Ramberg.

The County Board already gets enough tax money but has made decisions to spend it on other things, said Struemke, who made a motion to put the issue to voters in April.

"We have all the pertinent information to make a decision," responded Supervisor Gerald Peterson, Baldwin. He said citizens will vote no "because they really don't understand it."

While the County Board has the responsibility to make sure roads are maintained, this is a new tax and taxpayers should be asked what they think about it, replied Struemke.

The county already has the money to maintain roads, and it's up to the Finance Committee make sure the funds are budgeted appropriately, said Supervisor Gordon Awsumb, town of Kinnickinnic. He said none of the constituents he has talked to want to pay the fee.

"I've had no one asking for an increase in their taxes," agreed County Board Chairman Buck Malick.

With the number of people in financial distress and the foreclosure rate in the county, this isn't the time to be increasing taxes, said Malick. "I just think this is a bad time to be increasing taxes unless the citizens say they want it."

Highways are a very visible service, but people aren't complaining about the condition of county roads, added Malick.

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