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State gas tax debate tied to county roads

County commissioners and department heads are closely watching the gas tax debate at the Minnesota State Legislature. The Minnesota gas tax, currently at 28.6 cents per gallon, is used to assist counties such as Otter Tail County for road and bri...

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Rick West Tom Hintgen/Perham Focus

County commissioners and department heads are closely watching the gas tax debate at the Minnesota State Legislature.

The Minnesota gas tax, currently at 28.6 cents per gallon, is used to assist counties such as Otter Tail County for road and bridge maintenance.

"In recent years state financial assistance has fallen short of what is needed in Otter Tail County and other counties throughout the state" says County Public Works Director Rick West. "

This resulted in Otter Tail County initiating a county-wide half-cent sales tax devoted to road and bridge repair. In addition, the county also has a $20 fee for license tab renewals.

West says close to $4 million is derived annually from the half-cent sales tax and close to $1.2 million comes to the county annually from the $20 per license tab fee.

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There's also a levy that county taxpayers pay for road and bridge maintenance in Otter Tail County. That amounts to $3.5 million annually.

In October 2018 a poll by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune and Minnesota Public Radio found that 56 percent of respondents supported a 10-cent gas tax increase to maintain roads and bridges throughout Minnesota.

"This is not about a choice between having a gas tax increase or not. It's a choice between living in a state with a safe transportation system or living in a state with crumbling roads and bridges," said Gov. Tim Walz in a Star-Tribune article.

Minnesota's roads earned a D-plus in the latest American Society of Civil Engineers report card. Five of the 100 worst truck bottlenecks in the nation are in Minnesota.

"Residents are willing to pay more taxes if it means keeping roads and bridges safe," West said. "This was expressed loud and clear in previous months at public meetings held throughout Otter Tail County."

With overwhelming citizen support, the five-person Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners approved the half-cent sales and later approved a license tab fee of $10 that was increased to $20.

"The state really needs a dedicated fund devoted to just road and bridge maintenance," West said. "Taking money from the state general fund each year, way below what is needed, does not solve the problem for the long term."

Gov. Walz says a state gas tax increase is just one of the ways to maintain roads and bridges throughout the state. He also would like to see an increase in the vehicle registration tax and the motor vehicle sales tax that people pay when purchasing a vehicle.

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Otter Tail County is larger in size than the state of Rhode Island and paved roads total 1,062 miles.

"The backbone of our highway system in Otter Tail County requires lots of financial investment," says County Highway Engineer Chuck Grotte.

Related Topics: OTTER TAIL COUNTY
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