Will the Redwood County board implement a local option sales tax?

That decision has not been made, but it plans to make it, one way or the other, very soon.

After conducting a public hearing this past Tuesday (Dec. 11), the board scheduled a vote for its Dec. 20 meeting. It is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. that day.

During the public hearing portion of the discussion, which was attended by 11 people, a number of questions regarding the implementation of a half-cent sales tax in Redwood County were asked.

Near the conclusion of the hearing, commissioners asked if anyone in the audience was in favor of the addition of a half-cent sales tax to improve roads in the county. No one in the audience raised their hand.

“No one likes an increase in taxes,” said John Buckley during the hearing, adding, however, he understands the position the county board is in as the state and federal government have failed in their role of helping local units of government fund transportation infrastructure needs.

The board briefly discussed the possibility of having another evening hearing for the public, but it opted not to do that based on the belief that people likely would not attend that meeting either.

If the board wants to implement the local option sales tax as soon as is possible in 2019, it needs to make a decision soon.

Yes, said Jim Salfer, county commissioner, the board could wait to make a decision until January, but that would mean it could not implement the sales tax until July. As it is now, approving the half-cent sales tax in December, if it chooses to do so, would mean it would not be implemented until April 1. 

Even with the implemented half-cent sales tax in the county, the transportation funding needs are not being met to address the growing need. Based on the most recent sales data, which Vicki Knobloch, county administrator, said was from 2015, the implementation of a half-cent sales tax would bring in about $700,000.

The county also has implemented a $10 per vehicle wheelage tax, which it estimates will bring in $200,000 for transportation needs.

Keith Berndt, county engineer, said it takes between $200,000 and $300,000 to overlay a mile of roadway, adding the funding that would come in is a “drop in the bucket” compared to what is needed.

Berndt added 40 percent of the county’s paved roads are 20 years old or older, adding the older pavement gets the more it takes in terms of funding to repair them.

The concept of a gas tax was raised during the hearing, as governor-elect Tim Walz has expressed support for an increase. Should the state implement a three-cent gas tax increase, based on the current funding allocation formula, Berndt said he would anticipate another $300,000 from the state.

Lon Walling, county commissioner added, however, he has heard that there has been discussion about using a new formula for new gas tax dollars. That, he said, would likely be more heavily allocated to more of the metro area of the state.

The public will have the opportunity to share its thoughts on the sales tax proposal during the open forum portion of the Dec. 20 meeting at 8:30 a.m.

Commissioners also welcome comments from the public in the coming days, and those who want to share their thoughts can do so by sending e-mails or calling county board members. That contact information is available on the Redwood County Web site at www.co.redwood.mn.us.

In other action during its Dec. 11 meeting, the Redwood County board:

• Approved the University of Minnesota Extension program agreement for LINC Redwood County. The county has agreed to provide $11,300 per year for three sessions of LINC.

• Approved an amendment to the medical service agreement the Redwood County Sheriff’s Department has with Mend Correctional Care allowing for an additional eight hours of nursing coverage per week at an added cost of $14,900 per year. According to Randy Hanson, Redwood County sheriff, the added hours are intended to help curb the need for emergency room and clinic visits in an effort to help reduce costs.

• Approved a contract between the City of Sanborn and the Redwood County attorney’s office, with the county attorney providing additional prosecution services at a rate of $150 per hour.

• Acknowledged the resignation of John Rohlik, Jr. from his position on the planning commission.

• Approved the lease agreement between Redwood County and Southwest Health and Human Services for 2019. The lease does not include an increase over the amount paid in 2018, which was $123,000 for the year.

• Approved the employment of Tyler Christensen as deputy director for the Redwood Soil and Water Conservation district effective Dec. 12.

• Approved the employment of Matthew Gleisner as a deputy for the Redwood County sheriff’s department effective Dec. 19.

• Accepted a $100 donation from Loren and Maureen Johnson for the restorative justice program.

• Approved 2019 tobacco licenses for: Farmers Coop Oil Company, Erickson’s Handi-Mart, Dacotah Ridge Gold Course, Wayne’s, Inc., Meadowland Farmer’s Coop in Lamberton, Meadowland Farmer’s Coop in Wabasso, Farmers Coop Association of Milroy, Staples Enterprise – Expressway in Sanborn, Vesta Bar and Backroads Bar and Grill in Clements.

• Approved liquor license renewal applications for Dacotah Ridge Golf Course and Staples Enterprise - Expressway in Sanborn.

• Approved a renewal of contract with Safe Assure for 2019 at a cost of $7,957 for 2019, which reflects a 4 percent increase. Safe Assure provides assistance to the county with safety training and safety manual updates.