Local-option sales tax starts in 90 days, funds road projects

After introducing the concept in December last year and holding many discussions since then, the Mille Lacs County Board voted at its August 2 meeting to approve a local-option sale tax of one-half of a percent on taxable items, or 0.5 percent of the taxable-item price, to be collected for a 10-year period.
Commissioner Tim Wilhelm voted cast the only no vote. The board members had just come from a workshop in which they discussed again the roads to be improved with the estimated, collective total of $13 million to $15 million the local-option sales tax will generate.
The county must wait 90 days before it implements the tax, and it may only spend the money on the projects it has listed:
•County roads 103 and 107: 2.5 miles of County Road 107 from County Road 25 to County Road 103 plus a half-mile stretch of County Road 103 from Country Road 107 to Highway 169 for $1.8 million.
•County Road 101: 4 miles in Borgholm Township from Highway 23 to County Road 11 for $3 million.
•County Road 106: 2.5 miles in Milaca from County Road 18 to the western county line for $2 million.
•County Road 112: 2.5 miles in Milaca from Highway 23 to County Road 9 for $2.2 million.
•County Road 131: 2 miles in Isle Harbor Township from County Road 17 to Highway 47 for $2 million.
•County Road 151: 2 miles in Hayland Township from County Road 11 to County Road 16 for $2 million.
•County Road 140: 2 miles in Milaca from County Road 18 westward.
County Administrator Pat Oman has said repeatedly that the roads slated for improvement with local-option sales tax money have no other funding source besides the levy funded by taxpayers. Oman has argued that the expenses are more evenly distributed to all road users through the local-option sales tax rather than just paid by property taxes.
County Engineer Bruce Cochran reiterated in the August 2 workshop that all the roads identified have been on the county’s long-range transportation plan. The roads were prioritized according to age and condition as well as which ones draw the most complaints from residents.
The county held a public hearing early in 2016, followed by two more public-information and listening sessions. The commissioners have discussed the local-option sales tax in multiple workshops including other ways to fund the roads, how state-aid funds are assigned and if they can be shifted as well as why some gravel roads need pavement.
Oman said the commissioners would later be asked to decide how they want to accomplish the projects. The two choices will be to allow the sales-tax money to accumulate and then do the road projects or to do small bonds for a few projects at a time that can be paid off as the sales-tax money accumulates. Funds from the local-option sales tax will begin coming to the county in January 2017.