The County Board has June 27 on its calendar. That is the day when a decision is to be made on the Polk County Wheelage Tax issue.

    The County Board has June 27 on its calendar.  That is the day when a decision is to be made on the Polk County Wheelage Tax issue.

    Should the county either end or continue the $10 tax that is currently being collected for each vehicle as a part of the tab fee registration process.  Or, should the tax be increased to $20. Another option is for the county to collect a one-half-cent sales tax on all purchases.

    It is no secret that taxes of any kind are unpopular. But taxes have a purpose, too.

    In Polk County, the use of the $10 wheelage tax, which generates about $300,000 a year, funds construction projects solely on the County Road (CR) system.

    Some background: Polk County has two road systems, the County State Aid Highway (CSAH) system and the County Road (CR) system.

    CSAH roads are built and maintained by the state gas tax, motor vehicle sales tax (collected when you buy a vehicle) and the registration tab fees (excluding the wheelage tax). CSAH roads are identified by two-digit numbers on the highway signs… 1, 6, 10, 11, 17, 34, 58, etc. County Roads are maintained strictly by local levy dollars (your property taxes) and have no other funding source. County Roads are identified by three-digit numbers in the 200 series — 210, 214, 222, 232, etc. — on the highway signs that mark them.

    Prior to 1997, the county was spending about $700,000 a year in local property tax dollars to construct roads on the County Road system. Since then, the county has not levied enough tax dollars to continue constructing these roads.

Tax started in 2014

    Monies accumulated from the wheelage tax, which started in 2014, allowed Polk County to begin constructing roads on the County Roads system again. Projects that have been completed with those funds include the overlays of CR 206 ($150,000) and CR 214 ($545,000) last summer. Another $90,750 is to be spent this year to overlay CR 210.

    In County Engineer Richard Sanders’ energetic 5-year plan, which is based on an increase to a $20 per vehicle wheelage tax, funding would be available in 2018 for the grading and surfacing of CRs 281 and 221 (a $1 million project) and to overlay CR 238. No work is projected in 2019 to allow funds to accumulate to do a pair of $600,000 grading jobs in 2020 (CRs 202 and 203).

    Because of what he feels is a need to do these projects, Sanders is lobbying for the $20 tab fee that would start on Jan.1, 2018. He’d like the half-cent local option sales tax, too, and envisions a number of projects going forward. His goal involves overlaying the already “hard-surfaced” County Roads now in place, along with the needed grading of others. He’d also like to hard-surface some other County Roads that have qualifying traffic volumes.

    The fairness of the wheelage tax has been questioned by some, including those who have vehicles that are used only during short time periods… farm trucks, in particular. But the fairness can also be questioned by car-owners, who drive many more miles but do less road damage than a legally-loaded 5-axle semi-trailer truck since one truck is the equivalent of 9,000 cars.

    In the end, commissioners will have to decide how to proceed, whether to keep or end the $10 wheelage tax, bump that tax up to $20, or even approve the half-cent local option sales tax.

    We look forward hearing from you either positive or negative so that we can make an educated decision. We’ll be listening.

    Thoughts expressed in this column are those of the author and are not necessarily a reflection of the opinions of the other members of the Polk County Board of Commissioners.