A sunset provision was added to a proposed ordinance creating an annual vehicle registration fee Wednesday at the Dunn County Board of Supervisors meeting.
The wheel tax ordinance will be voted on at the board’s November meeting.
Added to the ordinance proposal was a provision that would require the board to approve an extension of the vehicle registration fee, or the tax would end in December 2022.
Supervisor Mike Kneer — who presented the amendment — said it’s important that board members are put in a position where they must review the fee, then they may extend, terminate or adjust as the members think is necessary.
“I want to have my hand tied in two years,” Kneer said. “I want to have to vote on this … As far as reviewing it, I have more faith when we’re said ‘we have to vote on it’, rather than, ‘we’re going to look at it’, because it’s a tax, and I think it’s our duty to really think it through each time.”
The motion to adopt the amendment and have the section added to the proposal passed by a 15-12 vote. If the ordinance is approved, the board would have data from 2020 and 2021 to determine whether the wheel tax needs to be extended beyond 2022.
The proposed tax would be a $20 vehicle vehicle registration fee for each car, van, SUV and truck under 8,000 pounds that is registered with an address in the county.
Trucks registered as “farm” or those that weigh more than 8,000 pounds, along with buses, motorcycles and motor homes, would be exempt.
The fee could take effect beginning in 2020. Corporation Counsel Nicholas Lange said the Wisconsin DOT must be notified of a vehicle registration fee 90 days in advance of the fee taking effect.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles data, an estimated $726,000 could be raised each year based on the 36,300 vehicles in the county.
Following state law, funds received from a wheel tax must be used for county road repairs, maintenance and improvement.
Supervisor Gary Seipel said the implementation of fee is necessary to maintain county roads. Costs of materials and equipment have continued to rise. During the past few winters the county highway department has needed to go over its winter maintenance budget to keep roads clear, Seipel said. Decreased transportation aid over the past several years and an inability to raise the tax levy beyond the state’s limit have increased the need for the wheel tax, Seipel added.
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“That’s put a strain on our ability to appropriate enough money in a timely matter to keep our county roads from deteriorating to a point with where they become dangerous,” Seipel said.
The highway department is too far behind, supervisor Kelly McCullough said, and setting a limit through 2022 isn’t long enough to maintain roads and dig itself out of a hole it’s in.
“We need I would say at least four to five years to catch up and a two-year sunset is just not going to do it,” McCullough said. “We don’t have the money to keep the roads in shape on that timeline.”
Supervisor Larry Bjork said once a wheel tax is implemented, there is a habit of continuing to increase it, citing rising vehicle registration fees in the city of Madison to go along with a wheel tax also in Dane County.
“If we just always go to the taxpayer and say we need another $20 (increase to the wheel tax), we need another $10, there’s no end to it,” Bjork said. “Sooner or later people are going to have to dig their heels in and scream, ‘bloody murder’ that the state of Wisconsin, “you need to support your counties a little bit.’”
Public hearing change
The board also approved an ordinance regarding public comment at board or committee meetings. If a public hearing has already been held, non-members of the board will no longer be permitted to speak on the topic during public comments.
The ordinance isn’t about denying people the opportunity to speak, but rather about following state law that says input is provided during public hearings, county Manager Paul Miller said. Citizens also have the right to approach a supervisors and ask that the issues be returned to a public hearing at the county board meeting if they still wish to provide more testimony.
Public hearings are meant to be the opportunity to present to the committees before decisions are made and brought before the board of supervisors, Lange said.
“What this says is you can’t come the county board during the public comment section and try to present additional information or evidence in order to bolster your case,” Lange said.
The next board of supervisors meeting will be held Nov. 12.