10/17/2013 11:05:00 AM County board approves new tax on registered vehicles
By Paul Martin
At its October 15 meeting, Goodhue County Board heard from Greg Isakson, Director of Public Works, how his department proposes to use revenue from the Wheelage Tax. The new Tax will be a flat tax of $10 per year on every vehicle registered in the County. It was authorized by the State Legislature in its 2013 session.
Unlike the gas tax, all revenue will go to the County for local use. The State will collect it when the vehicle is licensed, then transmit it monthly to the County in which the vehicle is registered (even if the owner uses an office in another county). It will not apply to motorcycles or mopeds, or to trailers and semi-trailers. It is expected to raise about $463,000 in Goodhue County in 2014.
Public Works is faced with heavy road maintenance expenses in the next few years. Many county roads were improved and blacktopped 40 to 50 years ago, and are nearing the end of their useful life. $9 million was bonded for these roads, but a big slice of that money is now needed to pay the County's share of several big projects: the Hwy 52/24 interchange at the south end of Cannon Falls, the new Hwy 24 relief road for the town, the Hwy 52/9 interchange, and new roads at the north end of Zumbrota.
Years to Road Life
Isakson shared a schedule for sealcoating roads, especially ten years after a major reconstruction. The process only costs about $25,000 per mile, but adds years to road life. "If you have a house with wood walls, you need to make sure you keep it painted," said Isakson. "Sealcoating works the same way with roads."
The Board agreed this was the best use for the Wheelage Tax revenue. Board Chair Dan Rechtzigel said, "These are user fees that come from all over the County. This program applies them to roads all over the County."
State Program may Pay
for new Hwy 52 Work
Isakson then turned to a MnDOT (Minnesota Department of Transportation) program that will make $300 million available for improvements to major highways in the state, such as Hwy 52. "We were only given a few days notice of the date to apply for 2014 funds under this program," he said. "Even if we don't get approval, applying would set us in line for 2015. Our next priority is a northern bridge over Hwy 52 in Cannon Falls near the Cannonball, but MnDOT has no interest until they see a real need for it. If and when there is real traffic growth in the area, I believe they will fund it."
Isakson said the best chance to get funds is through a joint application with Dakota and Olmsted Counties. He advised supporting Dakota County, who are well on the way with plans for improvements to the dangerous Hwy 52/86 junction just north of Cannon Falls. "They were planning surface improvements," he said, "but when they saw how unpopular that sort of work was when proposed for the Hwy 9 junction, they decided to go for an overpass instead."
Commissioners Voice their Roadwork Wish Lists
Commissioner Rich Samuelson agreed that Hwy 86 has to be the first priority, in view of the repeated accidents there. "After that, the Hwy 52/14 junction will become a priority. Once the lights are removed, the constant flow of traffic will make it much harder to cross Hwy 52." Commissioner Jim Bryant said work is also needed on the Hwy 52/57/8 junction near Hader, and on a Hwy 52 bridge for Hwy 68 north of Zumbrota. Isakson responded, "Again, MnDOT will need to see proof of real problems before those projects become a priority for them."
New County Website
The County approved spending an initial $39,600, plus about $6,000 per year, for a much improved and up-to-date County website. IT Director Randy Johnson spoke of the many advantages the new website will bring. The County will no longer need an intranet as well, and editing content will be much easier. The public will find a much easier-to-use home page, with quick access to all content. Extra bandwidth will mean any meeting can be shown live, and archived for viewing up to two years later. There will also be a translator function.
Grant Applications for
Cannon Valley Trail,
The Board agreed to support two grant applications for State Legacy Fund money. Cannon Valley Trail staff want a grant to build two solar-powered drinking fountains in areas that have no power supply. One would be halfway from Red Wing to Welch, the other halfway from Welch to Cannon Falls.
Isakson said the Parks Board wants to build a trail to a viewpoint on the cliffs at the west end of the County Park. The County failed to get on the 2013 grant program, but will try again in 2014. The Board declined to fund part of the estimated $500,000 cost, although this would have increased chances of success.
In answer to Commissioners' concerns about cliff jumpers, Isakson said the proposed trail area is some distance to the east of the area used for diving, which is outside County property. He also agreed that this is not the right time to be spending County dollars on a trail, as discussions with Dakota County about an enhanced Regional Park continue.
Lastly, Isakson reported that progress on the new trail bridge just below the dam is unclear. "I keep asking when they are going to build. They keep assuring me it will happen, and they are just working on final details."