Monday, September 24, 2018

Andrew Dowd

Consider ‘wheel tax,’ outgoing chairman says

  • Moore-Gregg-042512-jpg-1

In his final State of the County address as leader of the Eau Claire County Board, Gregg Moore gave a quick pitch last week for considering a “wheel tax.”

He acknowledged that the idea has been controversial — adding a county fee on top of the $75 the state collects annually for most vehicle registrations — but said it is a way to raise money for road upkeep while other revenues are flat.

“I do think the county will need to look at the vehicle registration fee, known as the ‘wheel tax,’” Moore said Friday to the room of about 90 local business and community leaders gathered for the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored event.

Moore, who was first elected to the County Board in 2004 and became chairman in 2008, is opting not to seek re-election in April.

Six counties — including Chippewa and St. Croix — and 19 municipalities currently charge a wheel tax, according to the state Department of Transportation’s website. They range from $10 to $30, which is decided by the local governments that chose to enact them.

Chippewa County put a $10 wheel tax in place in 2015 as it faced a budget crunch for its snow removal and road maintenance costs. County officials are planning to stop collecting that fee after 2019.

Eau Claire County has mulled the idea of a wheel tax before, but didn’t put one in place.

A proposal to enact a $10 wheel tax got to a full County Board vote in 2007, but failed 21-8. In the following two years, it got discussion among committees but fizzled. The wheel tax continued appearing in a list of ideas that previous county Administrator J. Thomas McCarty had in his annual budgets, but that was as far as it got.

Moore, who said Friday that he was speaking on his own behalf and not the County Board, said the wheel tax should be considered again.

He acknowledged that one of its weaknesses is that the state doesn’t allow it to be collected on trucks that weigh more than four tons, which cause more wear to roads than cars or pickup trucks.

But Moore said an upside of the fee is that it is charged to motorists and goes into keeping their local roads in good shape.

The state does collect a portion of local wheel taxes, Moore said, but it’s a small amount. According to the DOT’s website, the state collects 17 cents of every local vehicle registration fee as an administrative charge.

There were 79,787 vehicles registered in Eau Claire County, which would be subject to a wheel tax, according to DOT statistics.

Minus the administrative fee, Eau Claire County would get about $784,300 annually from a $10 wheel tax, based on that number of vehicles.

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