During Tuesday evening’s meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors, Highway Commissioner Kelly Reith brought forth a proposal in the form of a resolution. for a $20 vehicle registration fee for county residents. The agenda item was brought forth as a possible local solution to a statewide issue of lacking funding for road maintenance and repair.
“This is a statewide dilemma, not just a Lincoln County issue,” Reith stated. “We have had discussions about a number of communities who are looking at adopting something like this. Area communities such as Wausau are currently looking at this possibility. Costs for work have gone up, people are driving less miles and cars are getting more miles to the gallon. This has all led to a decline in funding from gas taxes and Wisconsin ranks as one of the lowest states in our area of the country, in terms of gas tax paid.
“By state statute these funds would be used only for road maintenance and repairs. The $20 per vehicle registration fee collected by the DOT would be turned over to the county. As of July 29, just over 29,000 vehicles in the county would qualify for this fee. Registration fees would be a very effective way to move forward as a significant funding source.”
If the resolution were to gain board approval, Reith added an estimated $534,000 would be generated annually to be applied toward highway funding.
16th District Supervisor Mike Loka spoke in opposition to the resolution.
“If we do this, we would be doing Madison’s dirty work for them. Rather than take the time to look at how to increase funding for the counties in the state, they will use this as an excuse to overlook us. If we stand together as a county and keep the pressure on the governor and the legislature, this issue will be solved at the state level where it should be.”
District 9 Supervisor Bill Zeitz and District 4 Supervisor Corey Nowak also opposed the measure.
“I agree with Supervisor Loka. I feel it would be inappropriate to consider this at this time,” Zeitz said. “Let’s wait a little bit to see what happens, if nothing happens then bring it back another time.”
“It’s just not fair to our local residents to pay for this locally, while other people from around the state come in and drive on our roads as well,” Nowak echoed. “I think it’s up to the state to fund this. It’s not fair to our tax payers.”
District 14 Supervisor Brian Hafeman agreed.
“If we keep going along with ‘ok we’ll fix it locally’ things will never get fixed at the state level.”
District 20 Supervisor Carl Vander Sanden was the only voice in favor of the action Tuesday.
“I don’t know of anyone in Lincoln County who cannot afford $20 to help fix the roads they are inflicting wear and tear on. These funds can only be used by the county for the intended purpose of road maintenance and repair. I am 100% in support of this.”
As a result of a roll call vote, the resolution was defeated 18-4.
Vander Sanden, District 19 Supervisor Julie Allen, District 21 Supervisor Kortney Pike and District 5 Supervisor Garth Swanson voted in favor.
In other matters on Tuesday, the board of supervisors unanimously approved a resolution to increase Lincoln County Jail staffing from 21 to 24 correctional officers.
“We ideally would have five staff on per shift,” Sheriff Jeff Jaeger explained. “But, due to a staffing shortage, we have been operating with four per shift. This has forced us to violate some of our own policies such as having one officer performing security checks rather than two, which we would normally have. I’m sure you can imagine the sort of safety risk that presents.”
Upon approval Tuesday, the sheriff’s office will proceed with filling three Correctional Officer vacancies.