Our Opinion: A sales tax is the best way to fund county road maintenance

It's a difficult situation the Crow Wing County Board finds itself in. What should be done to address the issue of how to pay to maintain its miles and miles of paved roads?...

It's a difficult situation the Crow Wing County Board finds itself in. What should be done to address the issue of how to pay to maintain its miles and miles of paved roads?

We support the idea of a half-cent sales tax currently being considered by the county board. It's a support offered with mixed feelings-we know full well that sales taxes, though intended to do so, rarely go away. The county, however, needs to do something to correct an problem it has ignored for far too long.

County Engineer Tim Bray said more than 15 percent of all paved county roads are in poor or very poor condition, three times higher than internal performance targets call for. More roads will reach this threshold, Bray said, as maintenance continues to be deferred on an average of 159 miles of pavement each year.

The projected annual revenue from the local option sales tax under consideration would be $4.18 million, enough to potentially eliminate the $1.3 million portion of the property tax levy used to fund highway projects.

What other choices does the county board have?


Assessing property owners along county roads has been mentioned, but that isn't a feasible solution as the costs for benefitting property owners could be astronomical.

Some have suggested the county wait to see what the Legislature will do, and while transportation funding has been floated in light of the state's surplus announcement Thursday, there's no guarantee if or when the state will act and Republicans and Gov. Mark Dayton have said there will be no increase in the gas tax.

The county board could raise taxes on residents but given commissioners' propensity for maintaining a flat levy, that probably won't happen. The sales tax, at least, would be collected not just from residents but from anybody shopping in the county.

There is no answer that will be palatable to everyone, but the bottom line is the county needs to take care of what the county has. The county board has been negligent for the past six years by ignoring issues that, one way or another, need to be addressed.

You can't have it both ways, but unfortunately that appears what the county board is trying to do. Keeping the tax levy flat looks good but it only pushes issues down the road to a point where they will be more costly to correct. The county would be penny wise and pound foolish to let roads further deteriorate.

We support the implementation of the half-cent sales tax because it is the best solution to a problem that needs immediate attention. We'd also hope that when the county's transportation funding needs are corrected, commissioners allow the sales tax to sunset.

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