Just Fix It Wisconsin

County OKs car tax, Wausau puts it to voters 8/23/2016

8/23/2016, Wausau Daily Herald – Marathon County car owners will pay a new $25 fee starting next year to help cover the cost of road and bridge maintenance.

County officials reluctantly approved the charge Tuesday night, the same night that Wausau elected leaders voted to leave decisions about their own tax to voters.

Residents must pay the so-called wheel tax when they register vehicles starting in December. The policy will expire in December 2017.

After that Wausau residents may face a $20 car tax for up to three years, but only if voters approve the fee in a November referendum.

Marathon County and Wausau leaders had back-to-back meetings Tuesday night to debate the car taxes. Both communities are strapped for the cash needed to repair roads because state funds have dropped in recent years.

“I guess I’m speaking in favor of this wheel tax. I don’t like it,” said County Board member John Durham. “I don’t know what else we’re supposed to do.”

Marathon County charged a car tax for one year in 1987, said County Finance Director Kristi Kordus. Three counties currently charge that kind of fee, according to the state Department of Transportation website. And at least a dozen municipalities including Milwaukee, Beloit and the village of Tigerton impose $10 or $20  annual fees.

In Wausau, all new fees that affect more than 10 percent of residents have to be approved by voters. Residents proposed that policy by petition 10 years ago. The City Council debated repealing that rule but decided against it by a 9- 2 vote Tuesday.

Several Wausau residents at the city’s meeting asked the council to keep the referendum rule and let voters decide on the wheel tax.

“People are not real excited about a wheel tax, but they are even less excited about this,” said City Council President Lisa Rasmussen about repealing the referendum requirement on fees. “I think the double taxing (from city and county at once) is too much for residents to bear.”

When Wausau voters go to the polls in November to help determine the America’s next president, they will also get to approve — or reject — a $20 fee on vehicle registrations to start in 2018, after the Marathon County fee expires.

City Council member Sherry Abitz pushed for an end date on the city’s wheel tax, so the referendum would only allow it for three years.

But the city could use the projected $650,000 raised by that fee every year, said Wausau’s Director of Public Works and Utilities Eric Lindman.

“This is a recurring annual maintenance cost,” Lindman said. “It’s really a lot of the (street) maintenance issues that are being delayed.”

The county has also been cutting corners in its street maintenance. Wausau Mayor Robert Mielke and several County Board members pointed to the state Legislature as the reason they had to make such a tough decision to fund roadwork.

“I do not like voting for a raise in taxes of any sort,” said Marathon County Board Vice Chairman Lee Peek.

The decision was forced by state lawmakers, Peek said. “Our roads are vital and we don’t have any other options.”

The one-year fee will bring in about $3 million to the county for road work.

County Board members voted 29 to 5 in favor of the wheel tax. The no votes came from Jack Hoogendyk, Randy Fifrick, Richard Gumz, Dave Wysong and Chris Voll. Four board members were absent: Joel Lewis, James Seefeldt, Bill Miller and Allen Opall.

Marathon County drivers will see the new $25 fee when registering vehicles starting Dec. 1.

Wausau voters will decide whether to allow the city’s $20 car fee on the Nov. 8 ballot.