Another concern for me was—Is this only the beginning, are we opening the door for future County Sales Tax Increases to offset deficits??

    The Sales Tax increase voted upon in a recent County Board meeting related directly to additional transportation funding for county roads.  The county does have a Wheelage tax—this is a Ten dollar fee/tax per vehicle collected by the County when the license fee is renewed, this generated approximately- $350,000 per year in additional transportation funding.  In a recent 3-2 vote, the Board of Commissioners elected to End the Wheelage tax for 2018.

    The State of Minnesota legislature allows County Boards to increase the Wheelage tax for 2018- to a maximum amount of $20.00.  Another option permitted was to increase the sales tax in Polk County from the current 6.875 to 7.12% or 7.375%.  (An increase of .25% - .50% percent county tax) Our Polk County Highway Engineer, Rich Sanders, recommended the increase of the wheel age tax to $20.00 (would generate $700.000 each year) and also a .50 increase in the sales tax to 7.375% (would generate an estimated additional $ 1,400,000 each year).  These additional dollars combined would be $2 Million dollars!  The Board approved an increase in the Sales Tax Increase of .25% to 7.12% by a 3/2 vote which will add an estimated $700,000 dollars in additional transportation funding each year.  I voted no.

    It would appear, the Board needs to determine how aggressive a transportation plan is prudent.  Once that process or plan of action is determined, then funding sources and a budgeted amount would assist in determining a direction for funding—choices are--  a Tax levy, Wheelage Tax or Sales Tax increase.

    My opinion is that this process was not followed. The funding source became complicated when the Board reacted quickly to eliminate the Wheelage Tax for 2018 and set in motion a sales tax increase or to levy additional taxes for transportation.

    Another concern for me was—Is this only the beginning, are we opening the door for future County Sales Tax Increases to offset deficits?? The Social Services budget will most likely reflect a deficit this year, due in part to less financial support from the federal government and more demand for services.

    Over the next few weeks and months the Commissioners will be reviewing all County Departments’ budget requests for 2018 and determining the levy for 2018.  The voice or message I heard most during the campaign was to manage the County $65.8 million dollar budget with our population of 32,000 residents.  My goal is to limit budget growth and maintain services.  As we do with our own family budgets, it is important to manage our wants and our needs considering what our residents can support and afford.  Remember whatever our levy amount becomes—that percentage assumes your property value did not increase for your home or business last year—check your tax statement- your property value may have increased in Polk County.

Gary Willhite
District 3 Polk County commissioner