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Wheel tax eyed to raise road work funds

The Pierce County Highway Committee voted last week to recommend the county add its own vehicle registration fee to the fee already collected annually by the state.

The next step is to have an ordinance drafted and presented to the finance and personnel committee for its consideration.

The proposal, adopted on a 3-2 vote of committee members, is intended to raise money for highway maintenance and repair. It would add $10 to the annual $75 fee county residents pay to register their cars.

Highway Commissioner Ross Christopherson has long warned that, because of limited funding, the county is falling behind on road maintenance work and hasn't put aside enough money for projects already scheduled.

"The highway department is underfunded in the tax levy," agreed Laurie Lundgaard, the department's accounting manager, Friday.

She said the committee took as its model an ordinance adopted last year by St. Croix County.

"We did talk about a $20 fee, but that went over like a lead balloon," said Lundgaard.

She said that, based on the number of vehicles owned by Pierce County residents, the $10 fee would bring in about $300,000 a year.

County Board Chairman Paul Barkla wasn't at Thursday's committee meeting, but said Friday he had heard about the proposal. He said there's widespread opposition to it.

"No matter how you say it, it's a tax," said Barkla, who predicted little support at the county board level.

"It's the wrong time to take money out of people's pockets," he said.

Barkla said it's too late to get the matter on the agenda for the Tuesday, Oct. 28, county board meeting.