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County board to consider wheel tax
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MONROE - Green County residents could have to pay an extra $20 fee if they register or renew the registration of a vehicle after July 1.

The county's Finance and Accounting Committee unanimously approved the recommendation of an annual county vehicle registration fee, commonly known as a wheel tax, to the Board of Supervisors at their Tuesday meeting. Members had been considering the need for such a tax to help pay for roads and bridges since late last year.

Chris Narveson, Green County highway commissioner, told the committee in March that if the county continues to follow its current trajectory, 64 percent of county roads will be 25-55 years old in 45 years. Now, about 15 percent are 25-39 years old and 2 percent are older than 35 years.

"I don't think anyone wants this tax, but the public - there have been surveys done - the public wants the roads done," Narveson said at the March 6 meeting. "My hands are tied."

He warned that bridge funding, under a new federal program, could pay counties less than it used to. The program is supposed to pay 80 percent of the cost of bridges, leaving counties to pick up the remaining 20 percent, but Narveson estimated the actual split will be closer to 50/50. County Clerk Mike Doyle gave an even more dire estimate Tuesday, saying the government is looking at covering only 20 percent.

"(Bridges) are really falling behind," Doyle said. "You know the bridges aren't going to get done if we're gonna pay 80 percent and the government's gonna pay 20. It's not gonna happen at all."

Steve Borowski, a member of the finance committee, noted he was convinced a wheel tax is necessary after seeing the figures and projections Narveson provided.

"I was not really in favor of this, but after seeing that writing on the wall ... that's what we need to do," Borowski said.

Committee members considered a $25 fee before settling on $20, which was the more common amount collected for wheel taxes in other municipalities. With an estimated 30,000 vehicles, the fee would raise roughly $600,000 per year for Green County Highway Department maintenance expenses. If the Board of Supervisors went with $25 per vehicle, the department would be provided with another $150,000.

Committee member Jerry Guth noted a $25 fee would raise the vehicle registration cost - currently at $75 - by one-third, a "significant" increase without a sunset in the original version of the ordinance presented Tuesday. Cities and other municipalities could also follow suit and enact their own wheel taxes, he said, because the county's will only pay for county highways and bridges.

"Once the tax is there, it hardly ever goes away ... If it's good, it'll stand the test and it'll be supported five years from now," Guth said.

Art Carter, who is chair of the county board and a finance committee member, supported the $25 fee. He said if the government ever increases county funding, the board could end the wheel tax, adding that taxpayers will feel the same about a $20 fee as $25 when Guth expressed concern at how constituents would respond to the higher amount.

In the amended ordinance approved by committee chair Dennis Everson and members Kate Maresch, Borowski, Carter and Guth, the $20 annual fee would take effect July 1 and end in December 2023, at which time the board could renew it.

In December, county board members were discussing the possibility of a wheel tax, but legislation at the state level, Assembly Bill 361 and Senate Bill 374, was being considered by lawmakers to require a referendum by residents before increasing registration fees. Wisconsin 51st Assembly Rep. Todd Novak said at the time he did not approve of the bill because it took away control from local lawmakers. The measures failed March 28.

Novak said when an area including his hometown of Dodgeville considered a wheel tax, an advisory referendum was conducted on the topic and passed overwhelmingly.

Carter said Wednesday the county would not be conducting any type of referendum over the proposal, which will be brought to the Board of Supervisors during its meeting Tuesday.

"The board has a wide enough representation all over the county," Carter said. "I think they would have a pretty good feel for it."

- Bridget Cooke contributed to this story.