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County board OKs wheel tax
MONROE - Only one Green County supervisor opposed the implementation of a $20 vehicle registration fee while the remaining 29 voted to approve the new tax Tuesday to provide additional funds for the highway department.

Illustrating the need for the fee, Supervisor Harvey Mandel used the example of Wisconsin 11, which he said has been greatly deteriorating over time. Mandel is on the county Highway Committee.

"Unfortunately, if we don't do this, we're going to have (county) roads in the same state," he said.

Commonly known as a wheel tax, the fee will be charged in addition to the current $75 cost whenever a Green County resident registers or renews the registration of a vehicle after Aug. 1, with certain exceptions including those weighing more than 8,000 pounds. The ordinance includes a sunset provision that ends the tax on Dec. 31, 2023, unless the board votes to extend it.

County Corporation Counsel Brian Bucholtz told the board that Aug. 1 is the earliest the

ordinance can take affect under a Wisconsin Department of Transportation rule that requires 90-day notice before the first day of the month in which it's effective.

District 22 Supervisor Harvey Kubly, who represents Monticello, was the sole no vote at Tuesday's board meeting. He said his biggest reason for denying the tax was that his constituents weren't in favor of it. He received more feedback on the vehicle registration fee than he does on most other issues, he noted. Board member John Winters was absent.

With an estimated 30,000 vehicles registered each year, the $20 fee would raise roughly $600,000 annually to be used exclusively for Green County Highway Department maintenance expenses. That means only county roads, not state or municipal roads, will benefit.

Green County Highway Commissioner Chris Narveson said the county is currently replacing an average of 5 miles of road per year but should be doing twice that to keep up with deterioration. They should be replaced after roughly 25 years of use, he noted. In 45 years, Narveson projects almost two-thirds of county roads will be 25-55 years old under the current maintenance rate.

"That's not sustainable," he told the board.

State funding for bridges is "effectively" decreasing, Narveson added, by only covering bridges of a specific width and forcing counties and other municipalities to pay the difference if their needs differ - such as making a wider bridge to accommodate agricultural uses. He described a southwest regional highway commissioners meeting he attended Feb. 28 with WisDOT officials, in which a local program manager said exceptions could be made for agricultural use but he didn't want county commissioners claiming all of their bridges qualify.

"I don't know a bridge in this county that is not for agricultural use. So, I don't know if you guys like the tax any better than I do ... But the fact of the matter is it's the only thing we can do," Narveson said.

Supervisor Russ Torkelson, a member of the Highway Committee, said the committee decided a wheel tax would be the fairest way to raise funds for highway maintenance. While a gas tax "would definitely be better," this money will come directly to the county rather than the state, he said. Narveson echoed the sentiment, saying a registration fee affects all vehicle owners equally and doesn't take into account their actual use of - and impact on - roads. Kubly also said he voted against the idea partially because it's not an equitable tax.

County board member Jeff Williams said he thinks other vehicles on the road, including farm machinery, should be contributing too, but Chair Art Carter noted that money from some of those vehicles go mostly to the state or federal government.

"I guess (the registration fee) is a start, but I just think it should be somewhat across the board - whether it's ATVs, bicycles, whatever - with an axle tax," Williams said. "I mean, they're all on the road, utilizing what certain ones of us are paying for."

Narveson said the highway department plans to try alternative methods to lengthen the life of lesser-used roads. But, he noted, practices that grind down and replace the top 2 inches of a road, as the state did last year on Wisconsin 59 and is planning for Wis. 104, don't work. The aging material below causes faster deterioration.

"We're now counting the cracks that will have to be grouted and sealed now on Highway 59," Narveson said. "We're going to be out grouting and sealing a brand-new road. You don't do that."