The Mille Lacs County Board of Commissioners listened to concerns from community members during a June 18 public comment session regarding the idea of an increased wheelage tax.
The current wheelage tax, which is added to a vehicle registration fee, is set at $10 in Mille Lacs County, but counties can approve up to a $20 tax.
County Administrator Pat Oman said before the public comment session that an increase to the tax has not been approved and that the board wanted to hear from the public — even though the board is not required to hold a public hearing on the issue.
Roxanne Gerads, a small-business owner, showed strong opposition to an increase to $20.
“[An increase would be] detrimental to a small business,” Gerads said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but we are overburdened in this county with our taxes.”
That sentiment was echoed by Milaca Mayor Pete Pederson, who spoke on behalf of the city and for himself.
Pederson said that Milaca keeps its taxes low because they know Mille Lacs County will increase taxes.
Pederson also questioned how long the board had been discussing a possible tax increase.
Oman said that open, public discussions have been taking place for about two years.
Pederson also questioned why the county felt the need to increase the tax since the county’s average income per households is one of the lowest in the state, but the county is also one of the highest taxed.
“Personally, I think we’re just overtaxed and enough is enough,” Pederson said.
Pederson later added any increase would be harmful to citizens of Milaca.
“I don’t care if it goes up a dollar, they [residents] are on a fixed budget,” Pederson added.
Other concerns raised included the impact an increase would have on seniors who still drive and whether the tax would trickle down to townships.
Oman said the money from the wheelage tax is used for public works in general, and theoretically the money could be used to fix roads in townships in the county. But that idea had not been discussed.
The tax — which currently raises an estimated $270,000 for the county — would be used to purchase public works heavy equipment, according to Oman.