County wheelage tax fails; rural retail approved

ISANTI COUNTY BOARD)  The Isanti County Board, on a 3-2 vote July 17, denied a resolution for imposing a wheelage tax on vehicles kept within the county in order to pay for road improvements.

Voting in favor of a $10 wheelage tax for next year and going forward were commissioners George Larson and Larry Southerland. Voting against were Mike Warring, Greg Anderson and Susan Morris.

Until this year, the state only allowed metro counties to exercise a $5 tax on vehicle license tab renewals in order to meet local road construction needs. Then the state Legislature recently extended the levy authority — while doubling the tax amount to $10 — to Minnesota counties for their own road maintenance needs.

Had Isanti County taken advantage of a $10 wheelage tax, it would have generated around $340,000 for improving the county highway infrastructure, highway engineer Richard Heilman said.

However, for the majority of commissioners, they felt forced into making a quick decision, one without much if any public feedback, since counties had to act by an Aug. 1 deadline.

For Southerland, he felt the county had no choice but to accept the tax because of the revenue it would generate in keeping the county on top of road construction.

Anderson said he felt rushed because of the deadline, while the issue doesn’t allow for public input ahead of time. “I’m not ready to support this,” he said.

“The Aug. 1 deadline is too quick with no public input,” Morris echoed. “I can’t support it at this time either.”

Over in Chisago County, commissioners narrowly passed the $10 wheelage tax on a 3-2 vote. It has been estimated that about 40 counties have voted to collect the fee next year.

Rural retail tourism

Commissioners unanimously supported an amendment to the county zoning ordinance for rural retail tourism.

At the public hearing, and speaking in favor of the ordinance amendment, was county resident Rick Schneider who recently moved his family to the Isanti area with hopes of building a craft whiskey operation. “I think it’s a great ordinance for not just me, but for wineries, breweries and retreats,” he said.

Schneider, noting his neighbors are “all for” his business plan, also talked about how such rural retail businesses could use grain from local farmers as one idea of many that could grab local, state and even national attention — thus creating, perhaps, a place of destination in Isanti County.

“It seems good for potential business down the road, a good opportunity,” Commissioner Greg Anderson said.

Added Board Chairperson Susan Morris, “I’m excited about this. It will be interesting and fun to see the business ideas.” A wedding chapel, complete with an old yet beautiful barn, has already been mentioned, she said of a neighbor’s ambition.

“This really brings us back to our roots of agriculture in the area. That’s our heritage,” Morris explained.

In other action, the board:

• Authorized Public Health to fill the vacant health education coordinator position, due to the July 5 resignation of Matt Holida, as recommended by the personnel committee.

• Approved a storm water pollution prevention plan, which also is required by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, as presented by local feedlot operator Dennis Haubenschild. Haubenschild, who is prominently known for his innovative dairy operation near Princeton, said he plans to collect rainwater for irrigation needs.

• Approved the final plat of Estates of Lily, located in Bradford Township.

• Approved Isanti County to enter an agreement with the state to provide public transportation service in Chisago and Isanti counties. Further, Isanti County agrees to provide a local share of 15 percent of the total operating cost and 20 percent of the total capital costs.