The Infrastructure committee has begun discussing how to fund their roads for general maintenance and upkeep. None of the committee members were very happy about a potential wheel tax for residents.

In February, County Administrator Nate Ehalt explained the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) that provides the taxpayers with knowledge and understanding of when they can expect projects will need to be done. He said county roads need to be assessed and resurfaced about every 30 years.

He stated that in the late 90s, the County saw a spike in miles of roads that were resurfaced and that those roads are once again being looked at.

“The county was flush with cash in those days,” County Chairman Don Taylor said of the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.

“It was cheaper too in those days,” Supervisor Ed Peterson added.

Ehalt continued with a graph that showed the CIP preliminary data indicated that by 2029 those roads will have to be resurfaced and the county will need to come up with the money to fund those projects.

The CIP preliminary data also showed it may cost the county almost $4 million in 2029 alone. The County is expected to pay an average of just under $2 million until 2050.

Besides the unpopular wheel-tax Ehalt also proposed short-term borrowing, tapping into the county’s investments, using the forestry revenue or a combination of those options.

When discussing the wheel tax, Ehalt said about 15,000 vehicles in the county would qualify for the tax. It would be paid annually along with the vehicle’s registration through the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Supervisor and committee chair Jeremy Gronski said the wheel tax, “should be a last resort” and that he personally did not like the option.

Supervisor Emmett “Buzz” Byrne agreed and said that will be a burden of Burnett County residents and not the other people who regularly use the road.

“That only effects the people that are living here and does not address everyone else coming through our county and using the roads,” Supervisor Chris Sybers told the Sentinel. “Now an increase on the sales tax of half a percent would net over a million dollars a year for the roads and would be paid by everyone. It wouldn’t matter if they’re buying gas or stopping for a meal. Everyone would be contributing, and it wouldn’t just be our residents footing the entire bill.”

Ehalt explained to the committee that raising the sales tax would mean having to go through the state Legislature and get it approved. It was an option he was not very optimistic about.

“The likelihood of getting  0.5 percent of a sales tax approved is not good,” Ehalt said. “It’s just not likely the legislature will pass any kind of sales tax increase.”

Sybers then explained he would go down to Madison and make his point to the legislature.

“I’ll go down there and pound on some desks until they listen to me,” Sybers said.

Ehalt added, “It’s politics.” He said the state expects smaller counties to “grow their way out of these problems. That’s just what they expect us to do.”

The committee advised Ehalt to talk with representatives about the issue. Those representatives include Gae Magnafici, Romaine Quin, Nick Milroy and State Senator Patty Shachtner. 

There will be a presentation on how to fund the roads at the committee of the whole meeting Thursday, May 16.