After several weeks of discussion, hosting a public hearing and listening to constituents, the Redwood County Board of Commissioners voted Dec. 20 on a 4-1 vote (Lon Walling voted against) to move forward in 2019 with a local option sales tax for transportation.

The half cent sales tax will begin countywide as of April 1 of next year.

The idea of implementing a local option sales tax was initially proposed by Keith Berndt, county engineer. He addressed the idea as a way to help cover the costs of work that would be done on CSAH 101 from Minnesota State Highway 19 in Redwood Falls (Bridge Street) north to the Minnesota River. The river bridge at that location will be replaced in 2019, and with the road closed, Berndt felt that it would be a good time to update the roadway was well.

The challenge was that he did not have the funding available to cover the cost for that project. So, he suggested the idea of using a sales tax option to help supplement those dollars allocated to the county for road improvements.

During the discussion that ensued, the county met with Berndt who brought a comprehensive list of roadwork that needs to be done on the county’s transportation infrastructure. With more than 40 percent of its roadways 20 years old or older, the need to find funding is critical, Berndt said. 

In total, Berndt presented a list that exceeded $62 million in projects.

After hosting a hearing Dec. 11, the board scheduled a vote for its Dec. 20 meeting, as it needed to determine whether or not to move forward in December in order to begin the process in April. Had it waited until January, the sales tax collection would not have started until July 1.

During the open forum potion of the Dec. 20 meeting, Bob Wetmore of Redwood Falls expressed concerns with the sales tax, adding with several other communities in the region implementing a sales tax increase, Redwood Falls businesses had an advantage in not implementing one.

Wetmore said people are going to patronize businesses if they know it saves them money.

“Not having the higher sales tax does make a difference,” said Wetmore.

Wetmore also raised concerns about the impact on other businesses in town, such as car dealerships.

According to state law, the sales tax does not impact that industry, as it would pay a $20 excise tax on each vehicle sold rather than the entire sales tax increase on each sale.

Bob VanHee, county commissioner, said the reality is that the state and especially the federal government have failed to live up to their obligation when it comes to funding transportation.

He added that transportation is such a critical part of economic success for a business, as it relies on good roads to not only bring in customers but also to get their products to other markets and to bring in products for them to offer.

“Our job is to make sure the residents of the county are safe,” said Jim Salfer, county commissioner. “We need to do something.”

If the sales tax helps get the county to that point, then Salfer said it needs to be done.

According to state statute, the implementation of a sales tax option for transportation must be approved with a specific project list in mind. Prior to taking its final vote, the board directed Berndt to come up with a list of priority projects to consider.

The list includes:

• CSAH 101 from U.S. Highway 71 to one-quarter mile north of Minnesota Highway 68

• CSAH 101 from U.S. Highway 71 to the Minnesota River

• CSAH 101 from one-quarter mile north of Highway 68 to TH 68

• County Road 99 - the veterans cemetery road

• CSAH 6 from Minnesota Highway 19 to the Minnesota River

• CSAH 2 from CSAH 11 to 305th Street

• CSAH 24 from Highway 67 to CSAH 2

• CSAH 1 from Minnesota Highway 19 to Minnesota Highway 67

• CSAH 5 from the Redwood County line to State Highway 68

• CSAH 7 from the Redwood County line to Minnesota Highway 19

• CSAH 80 from Walnut Grove to the Redwood County line

• CSAH 1 from Minnesota Highway 67 to the Redwood County line.

When asked, Berndt surmised that this list would take in the area of 10 years to complete.

With $700,000 estimated to come in annually through the implementation of the half-cent sales tax, the board recognizes that those funds will be used to supplement other funds the county receives.

All of the work done by the highway department is contingent on other funding from the state and federal governments.

When the listed projects are complete the sales tax would sunset, and at that time the county board would have to decide whether or not to continue with the sales tax option.