Seeking what they call a “fair share” for their constituents, Eau Claire city leaders are requesting talks with county officials over a proposed $30 annual fee on vehicles registered in the county.
On Tuesday, the City Council voted 9-0 on a resolution asking for a meeting with county leaders to discuss sharing a portion of the fee, commonly called a wheel tax.
“This is a time for us to advocate for our constituents here in the city,” Councilwoman Kate Beaton said.
The city accounts for two-thirds of the county’s population and 72 percent of registered automobiles. The county’s proposed wheel tax would be used to pay for upkeep of 421 miles of rural roads and highways, but only 4.7 miles are in city limits.
“The fee would not be coming into city limits to fix roads that people use every day,” council acting President Andrew Werthmann said.
The city maintains 347 miles of roads,according to the resolution.
While the resolution’s primary purpose is to prompt a meeting to discuss the issue, it did include the idea of splitting the wheel tax revenues with 70 percent going to city roads and 30 percent to the county.
“I think it’s appropriate that we try to get our fair share of any funds our citizens are going to give to improve our roads,” Councilman David Strobel said.
Councilman Terry Weld asked what the city anticipates will happen next.
City Manager Dale Peters replied that he’d expect the county would reply to the city’s message and potentially start talks between himself and county Administrator Kathryn Schauf.
To date, Peters said, there haven’t been discussions between the county and city about the registration fee.
“At this point there’s been very limited communication on the staff level,” he said. But Peters added that could’ve been due to timing and scheduling.
The County Board introduced the idea of the $30 fee last month and may vote on it at next week’s meeting. If approved, the fee would generate an estimated $2.39 million in annual revenue.
In addition to sending a message to the county, Werthmann said, the city took up the resolution to help educate residents about the proposed fee.
“This resolution without a doubt is trying to help that narrative, to get information out there so folks know what it’s all about,” he said.
Before approving the resolution, the council removed one suggestion that the county consider reducing its proposed wheel tax to $10.
Strobel wanted to strike that because it would dilute from the main message of engaging in talks to discuss a “fair share” for the city.
Werthmann said that was included in the original resolution because a lower county wheel tax would give the city the potential to institute its own wheel tax in the future, should it choose to do so.
An 8-1 vote struck the clause from the resolution, with Beaton being the lone dissenter.
Councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle abstained from the discussion and vote due to her job with the county’s UW-Extension office.
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