The Lafayette County Board of Supervisors had a first reading of a proposed ordinance that could enact a $20 vehicle tax throughout the county at their regular meeting on Tuesday, April 21. As it was just a first reading, no action was taken, but the ordinance will be voted on at next month’s county board meeting.
The idea of implementing an annual vehicle tax was first presented to the board by Lafayette County Highway Commissioner, Tom Jean, back in February.
If implemented, the tax would apply annually to all vehicles kept in Lafayette County with an automobile registration or a truck registration at 8,000 pounds or less, except for dual purpose farm trucks.
State statute requires that any revenue brought in on this tax can only be used for transportation purposes, which according to Jean, the county is sorely in need of.
According to Jean, the budget for the Lafayette County Highway Department has increased by $448,515 in the past 11 years, due to rising equipment and material costs.
However, transportation aid is not so quickly rising and the amount that can be levied by the county is limited, leaving the highway department in a tricky situation, said Jean.
“More than half of the budget increase was due to borrowing in the 2015 budget,” said Jean. “While borrowing is a short term fix, it’s not a sustainable way to fund our transportation needs. We need an alternate form of revenue.”
Some costs that have highly increased in the past 10 years that Jean pointed out included: diesel fuel, which went from $1.85 per gallon in 2005 to $3.38 per gallon in 2014; sealcoat cost per mile, which went from $7,300 in 2005 to $15,000 in 2014; a tandem axle truck with equipment went from $84,304 in 2005 to $165,000 in 2015 and the cost of salt per ton went from $30.47 in 2005 to $68.75 in 2014.
If the $20 per vehicle fee were to be implemented, it would bring in an estimated $280,000 in revenue that could be put toward transportation costs. According to the last countywide census, around 14,000 vehicles in Lafayette County would be applicable for the tax.
Jean stressed during the meeting that he hopes to earmark any revenue that would come from this tax for matching funds that would be used for several upcoming road improvement projects throughout the county.
“This isn’t the perfect solution by any means, but it’s what the state statute allows,” said Jean. “It won’t solve all the problems, but it would go a long way.”
The tax is collected at the time of the first registration and at each registration renewal. The certificate of registration will then indicate that the tax was paid. If a vehicle owner gives a false location of where the vehicle is typically kept in an effort to avoid the tax, they could be fined up to $200 and/or imprisoned up to six months.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation would collect the tax each year for the county, keeping an administrative fee of 10 cents per vehicle, which would amount to around $1,400 in Lafayette County.
Counties that have implemented this tax include: St. Croix County at $10 per vehicle, Chippewa County at $10 per vehicle as of January 2015 and Iowa County at $20 per vehicle as of February 2015.
Municipalities with the tax include: the city of Janesville at $10, the city of Milwaukee at $20, the city of Beloit at $10 through January 2015 and increased to $20 starting in February 2015, the city of Appleton at $20 as of February 2015 and the township of Arena at $20 to begin in April 2015.
There are some special plates that are exempt from the tax including: Antique, Collector, Ex-Prisoner of War, Historic Military, Hobbyist, Medal of Honor and US Veteran Motorcycle. All special plates issued to a farm truck, dual purpose farm truck or motor home are also exempt.