Polk County denies request for tax increase

Commissioners have concerns this is the right year to increase taxes

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Polk County residents will not see a 2021 increase in the local option sales tax nor will they see a new wheelage tax added to vehicle registrations and renewals after both requests failed to produce a motion to approve during the County’s Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday morning. The commissioners voiced concerns with adding taxes at a time when people and businesses have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic and one commissioner said he might be in favor if the request came back in a year.

    The tax request for transportation purposes made from County Engineer Richard Sanders was for an increase from 0.25% to 0.5% for the local option sales tax and to add a $20 wheelage tax.

    District 1 Commissioner Jerry Jacobson told the group his personal opinion was he didn’t believe this was the year to consider adding taxes to which Sanders rhetorically asked “is there any year it would be good to do?” Jacobson reiterated his thoughts to Sanders and was later backed by District 5 Commissioner Don Diedrich who said people were “suffering and hurting” and thought the roads could “stand for a year.” District 2 Commissioner Warren Strandell said he would be in support of the local option sales tax as it appears to be more “painless”, but could not support the wheelage tax this year.

    District 4 Commissioner Joan Lee stated that, for her, it’s hard for her to justify as she’s been going around talking to businesses and “there aren’t people out and buying and patronizing our local businesses so that money isn’t being spent, so how can I justify adding a tax at this time?”

    County Engineer Rich Sanders told the Commissioners during his address that the current local option sales tax funds will be gone after the work on County Road 11 (Fisher Avenue in Crookston) is constructed and added the current wheelage tax coffer could be used for maintenance and transportation purposes.

    “There are 53 counties using wheelage tax and 40-something counties using local option sales tax and they’re mostly at 0.5%,” Sanders explained. “Marshall and Norman (counties) have theirs (wheelage tax) at $10 and even at $20 it’s as much as the local option sales tax.”

    Sanders continued saying the state shows there are 41,000 registered vehicles in Polk County and if they would pay $20 to drive on the county’s roads for a year “that’s a lot of dollars to help and maintain and construct our roadways.” He added that the local option sales tax increase to 0.5% would allow for the same thing.

    “We have $135 million of value in our road system right now that is reported to the state auditor every year and the longer we push this down the road the worse the projects get, the roads get, and the more it will cost you in the long run,” Sanders added. “It’s not just needing money for roads, it’s getting projects done quicker so it saves money down the road. To me it only makes sense.”

    Sanders also argued that if they were to ever need to construct a maintenance building they could use wheelage tax money rather than property tax money. He did say he wished he could set up the wheelage tax differently so, for example, a Geo Metro would pay $5 and a semi would pay $25, but that wasn’t an option.

    “Our roads are either in really good shape, fair shape, or poor shape; you decide on what Polk County roads will look like in the end,” he added.

Polk County Board of Commissioners met at the Transfer Station in Crookston Tuesday