Lincoln County Board extends wheel tax through 2021
County leaders lengthen emergency order, hiring freeze, non-essential spending moratorium
By Foto News staff
MERRILL – The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors voted to extend the county’s $20 vehicle registration fee, known as the “wheel tax,” through next year at its meeting on June 16.
The Board also voted to extend the county’s COVID-19 emergency order, hiring freeze and non-essential spending moratorium.
During the public comment period when discussing the vehicle registration fee, a county resident voiced her opinion that the board should accept responsibility for budget shortfalls, rather than shift the blame elsewhere.
“Elementary economics teaches us that when you find 25 cents on the sidewalk, you don’t try to buy 30 cents’ worth of candy. It’s simple math,” she said. “The county board should be challenged as a whole to try and find ways to spend within the budget, not try to find ways to blame the wealthy or the government and then spend more than what is coming in.”
The citizen stated her belief that the board should not implement the wheel tax without giving Lincoln County citizens the opportunity to vote on it, and urged supervisors to vote “no” on the resolution.
Board Chair Kevin Koth said although “no one wants to pay more taxes;” the alternative to the wheel tax would be making cuts elsewhere.
“I think it is, as you said, up to the elected officials that you actually vote for to make these decisions that are liked or not liked to come up with a $540,000 to $560,000 hole in the budget,” Koth stated. “Our spending has been pretty tight since 2010, and our departments right now are pretty bare-boned. We have done it through attrition. We have cut many positions to try to balance the budget.”
Koth said the county’s infrastructure is “not where it should be” and that he didn’t want to blame anyone for its current state.
“This is just where we’re at,” he stated, noting the levy limit freeze that is in place has constrained both the county and municipalities, and in turn, affected the state of roads.
“These aren’t easy decisions for (supervisors) to make, but that’s what you put us in here to do,” Koth said.
District 13 Supervisor Calvin Callahan highlighted what he sees as a larger issue when voicing his opinion on the wheel tax.
“Enough is enough,” Callahan stated. “The county and government in general need to stop penalizing the people for the government’s poor spending habits. We see this time and time again. Instead of looking closely at our options, where we’re spending money and what we can cut, the government jumps to taxing the hardworking people. Being fiscally conservative is a must.”
Callahan added that the best place for people’s money is “back in the family budget, not in the hands of the government,” and stated that he would vote “no” on the resolution.
District 1 Supervisor William Bialecki addressed the 2010 levy limits that remain in place and the currently tight county budget, and pointed to the 2017 statewide “Just Fix It” initiative that sought more infrastructure funding for town and county governments.
“We sent a loud, clear message to Madison, and they still didn’t get it,” he stated. “A good deal of the blame for this does belong in Madison.”
Bialecki said he hopes state legislators elected this fall “start listening to local governments up here and bring some legislation through to improve the situation for us up here.”
Although the resolution originally did not include a sunset, and amendment was made to extend the wheel tax through 2021.
After discussion of the possibility of a referendum next year regarding the wheel tax, the resolution was approved with a 17-5 vote.
Emergency order, hiring freeze, non-essential spending moratorium extended
The emergency order implemented on April 3 in Lincoln County due to the COVID-19 pandemic was extended another month, allowing supervisors to continue to utilize teleconferencing technology to attend meetings virtually.
The extension of the order will give the Board the opportunity to put a specific measure in place that will allow for virtual meetings when necessary.
The board also approved a hiring freeze and moratorium on non-essential spending in an effort to combat potentially declining revenues. According to Finance Director Dan Leydet, although tax revenues were up in slightly May, it will not likely be the case in the months ahead.