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Cass County Board: Commissioners support more state transportation funding, but not for light rail

WALKER—After reviewing the county's 2018 highway department annual report Tuesday, April 2, the Cass County Board voted to support only part of an Association of Minnesota Counties recommended legislative request for more highway funding.

AMC asked the 87 counties to ask the Legislature for, but not specify how to pay for, additional new state funding for Minnesota's statewide transportation system.

The AMC resolution cites funding for "road, bridges and transit."

Cass commissioners objected to the addition of transit, which they see as transportation largely for localized metro area commuters rather than serving people statewide. Roads and bridges are facilities which serve the state's entire population for transporting goods and tourists in addition to residents throughout the state, in the commissioners' view.

They amended the recommended AMC resolution to ask legislators to approve more funding for "Minnesota's Highway User Tax Distribution." It does not currently pay any toward light rail.

That state fund in 2018 collected $921 million from gas taxes, $787 million from license fees, $471 million from motor vehicle sales taxes and $94 million from interest for the Highway User Tax Fund.

From that $2.274 billion, the state distributed $2.115 billion to state and state-aid highways: $1.311 billion for state trunk highways, $612 million for county state-aid highways and $192 million for municipal state-aid highways.

Five percent of the Highway User Tax is distributed to township roads and bridges and a flex highway fund. A small portion goes toward DNR, collections and public safety.

AMC calculates Minnesota's 87 counties will need $8.541 billion over the next 25 years to maintain the current quality of their county state aid and county road systems or $1.084 million per year. They foresee an annual funding gap of $1.1 to $1.47 billion.

Cass County has been supplementing its state-aid revenue with local property tax levies and, recently, with a half-cent local sales tax to keep pace with road reconstruction needs.

In other highway business Tuesday, the county board accepted a Minnesota Department of Agriculture $7,500 grant. It will match $13,945 the county will spend to spray 4,100 acres of roadside ditches for noxious weeds, such as spotted knapweed, Canadian thistle, wild parsnip, common tansy and poison ivy.

The board approved an agreement with the city of Remer for the city to maintain lawn and driveway areas adjacent to their city hall and the county to maintain areas around the county garage on adjacent and shared areas.

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