The $10 per vehicle Wheelage Tax that has been collected on vehicles registered in the Polk County for the past three 3 years has been given the heave-ho. The tax will now end when 2018 begins.

    The $10 per vehicle Wheelage Tax that has been collected on vehicles registered in the Polk County for the past three 3 years has been given the heave-ho. The tax will now end when 2018 begins.

    The County Board made the decision to end the tax as a part of an action in which counties needed to decide by Aug. 1 if they wanted to: 1. Eliminate a Wheelage Tax that was in place; 2. Either establish or continue the tax at $10; or 3. Increase the rate to $20 per vehicle.

    There wasn’t any interest in increasing the Wheelage Tax to $20 per vehicle.

    The vote to end the tax wasn’t unanimous but that was likely because action on an alternative funding option for generating additional road dollars hadn’t yet been decided.

    That other funding option, a local option sales tax, will be on the agenda at the board’s Aug. 22 meeting. A public hearing will be held at 11 a.m. on a proposal to institute a one-quarter percent sales tax to support the maintenance and improvement of roads in the county.

    Following is some background information and other thoughts on the transportation subject… the thoughts being mine and not necessarily shared by other members of the board.

Just not right

    First off, I didn’t like the $10 Wheelage Tax because the charge is the same for cars as it is for all other vehicles all the way up to semi-trucks. Since it takes 9,000 cars to do the same road wear as one legally loaded, 5-axle semi-trailer truck that just wasn’t right. Enough said on that.

    The Wheelage Tax generated about $300,000 or more during each of the past three years, or a little more than $1 million. This money has been used exclusively to improve “County Roads.”

    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 purchase a vehicle) and the registration tab fees. CSAH roads are identified by one or two-digit numbers on the highway signs that mark them… 1, 6, 10, 11, 17, 21, 34, 58, etc.

    The other system, County Roads, is maintained strictly by local levy dollars (your property taxes). These roads have no other funding source. County Roads are identified by three-digit numbers in the 200 series — 210, 214, 222, 232, etc.

    Wheelage Tax dollars were used last summer to fund the overlays of CR 206 ($150,000) and CR 214 ($545,000). Another $90,750 is being spent this year to overlay CR 210.

    In County Engineer Richard Sanders’ energetic 5-year plan, which included revenue from an increase to a $20 per vehicle Wheelage Tax, funding would be in place in 2018 for the grading and surfacing of CRs 281 and 221 (a $1 million project) and to overlay CR 238. No work was projected in 2019 to allow funds to accumulate to fund a pair of $600,000 grading jobs in 2020 (CRs 202 and 203).

    Sanders’ goal involves overlaying the already “hard-surfaced” County Roads along with the grading of those that have gravel surfaces.

Sales tax revenue

    Based upon state projections, a quarter-percent sales tax would generate about $750,000 a year in Polk County. That’s more than twice what the Wheelage Tax has generated.

   To put the effect of a quarter-percent sales tax into perspective, this tax would add $1 to the purchase of a new $400 lawn mower. For a $50 dinner tab for two, the added cost would be 12.5 cents. A family that has two automobiles would need to spend $8,000 on sales taxable items to reach the $20 collected through the current Wheelage Tax. Since food and clothing are exempt from sales tax, taxes for purchases of those items would not be collected.

    While no one likes additional taxes, a one-quarter percent sales tax isn’t likely to put anyone of us out on the street and it would collect a few dollars from out-of-county and out-of-state people who use our roads.  

    So, if it hasn’t become obvious, yes, I’d like to see the quarter-percent sales tax instituted. You’ll have a chance to voice thoughts at the hearing or you can give anyone of us commissioners a call beforehand.

    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.