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County wants roadway funds added to bonding bill

Otter Tail County Engineer Rick West told county commissioners Tuesday, Jan. 19, he is disappointed that no money for proposed road maintenance is included in the governor's $1.4 million bonding bill proposal, which means fewer projects will be c...

Otter Tail County Engineer Rick West told county commissioners Tuesday, Jan. 19, he is disappointed that no money for proposed road maintenance is included in the governor’s $1.4 million bonding bill proposal, which means fewer projects will be completed this year.

 “Roadway funds are traditionally part of the bonding process,” said West.

Commissioners, knowing that in March the state legislature will start to add or subtract from Dayton’s list, plan to urge area legislators to join other lawmakers in seeing that roadway maintenance funding is restored to the bonding bill.

The three area legislators who represent Otter Tail County include State Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen and State Reps. Bud Nornes and Mary Franson. All three are Republicans whose state legislative leaders also expressed surprise and disappointment that Dayton’s bonding bill does not include money for road maintenance.

Dayton’s plan does include $73 million to rebuild two bridges in the Twin Cities, but no bridge money is proposed for outstate Minnesota.

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“We can only do so much with roadway funding raised at the local level,” said West.

The county has in place a half-cent sales tax to raise money for roadway projects which took effect Jan. 1, 2016.

Proceeds from the one-half cent sales tax, yielding close to $4.3 million annually, will be used for road repairs and maintenance in Otter Tail County. Area counties which already have half-cent sales taxes for roadways include Becker, Douglas and Wadena counties.

West said the county sales tax applies to items already taxed as part of the state sales tax system. He said the half-cent tax will not include a tax on food, clothing or other items that are not taxable in Minnesota.

Also taking effect Jan. 1, 2016, is a charge of $10 added to vehicle license tab renewals, starting in calendar year 2016.

This fee will increase to $20 per vehicle starting in 2018.

“Funds from the license tab fees will go to specific county roadway improvements as part our long-term transportation plan, previously approved by county board members,” said West.

Otter Tail County has an annual funding gap of $10.3 million for roadway maintenance. The county is larger in size than the state of Rhode Island and paved roads total 1,062 miles.

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“The lack of roadway funding from the state is problematic,” said County Board Chairman Lee Rogness. “As a county, it’s good that we at least have new funding sources in place, through the half-cent sales tax and the fee on license tab renewals.”

Dayton’s $1.4 billion bonding bill proposal includes $343 million for higher education buildings and repairs.

Minnesota prisons, under the governor’s plan, would receive $53 million for renovations. The Dayton plan also calls for $70 million for security upgrades at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

A county gas tax at the pump, with those funds also earmarked for road maintenance, is proposed by some county boards in Minnesota. This plan, however, would no doubt need the support of the Association of Minnesota Counties (AMC) and the state legislature.

“It’s something that should at least be considered,” said Otter Tail County Commissioner John Lindquist.

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