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County considers $10 vehicle fee

St. Croix County's Transportation Committee and its highway commissioner are asking for a countywide vehicle registration fee to help pay for road maintenance.

The proposed $10 per car fee -- which would require the drafting and adoption of a new county law -- would be collected along with the $55 annual registration fee charged by the state.

"The Transportation Committee has been chewing on this for three years," said Highway Commissioner Tim Ramberg as he brought the proposal to the County Board last week.

He said no other counties have this fee now, although the cities of Beloit and Sheboygan do.

With escalating hot mix and chip seal oil costs and limited state and county tax funding, St. Croix hasn't been able to keep to its maintenance goal of resurfacing 16 miles and chip sealing 54 miles of county roads each year, said Ramberg.

He said preventative maintenance saves money in the long run, but the expense of just the materials to keep to the 16/54 goal has climbed about $920,000 in three years.

More than 70,000 cars and small trucks are registered in St. Croix County so the fee would bring in about $700,000 a year. Cycles, trailers and trucks weighing over 8,000 pounds would be exempt from the charge.

Chances of getting more money from state or federal sources aren't good and it appears the registration fee is the only option the county has to raise more money for roads, Ramberg said.

Wisconsin's vehicle registration fee of $55 compares to Minnesota's $194 fee. Even with higher Wisconsin gas taxes, the driver of a mid-size sedan in Wisconsin pays significantly less in registration fees and fuel taxes than the same driver would pay in Minnesota, said Ramberg.

Wisconsin Department of Transportation numbers indicate that a Wisconsin driver of a mid-size sedan pays $82 a year less in fees and taxes than the average paid in the four surrounding states.

St. Croix County drivers who buy their gasoline in Minnesota pay even less, said Ramberg.

"Maybe the others are taxing too much," said Supervisor Daryl Standafer. He said it is "disingenuous to line up other states" and say their taxes are higher.

Standafer asked for an explanation of the relationship of the fee, the vehicles kept in the county and the need for road maintenance as well as the impact of those who don't live in the county but drive though and would "get a free pass" on a new county fee.

Most county-owned roads are collector highways and are used mainly by county residents, said Ramberg. People simply driving through the county generally use state or federal highways, he said.

The fee has another benefit in that it would be collected from county residents who avoid Wisconsin's gas tax by buying their fuel in Minnesota, added Transportation Committee member Gerald Peterson.

State law requires that local vehicle registration fees must be spent on road work, said Ramberg. He also insisted that the fee money should be in addition to, and not a partial replacement for, property tax funds used for highways.