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La Crosse County, City Officials Propose New Fees, Taxes To Boost Road Funding

Mayor Proposes Temporary Registration Fee; County Board Approved Road Funding Referendum Last Month

Traffic on the road
Nati Harnik/AP Photo

La Crosse-area residents could be facing two new wheel taxes as both city and county officials consider ways to increase road funding.

La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat proposed a $25 vehicle registration fee for city residents this week. It comes less than a month after the La Crosse County Board approved a transportation referendum for the November ballot.

Chairwoman Tara Johnson said the board is asking voters to consider a $56 wheel tax, among several options, to increase local funding. This would be the highest local wheel tax in the state.

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“I think it’s really an indication of the bind that local governments are in across the state, that we are having to come up with additional revenue sources because the state has not provided the funding for roads,” Johnson said.

County officials are also asking voters’ opinions on a 15 percent increase in property taxes and a plan introduced last year to create a premier resort area tax. Each one of these options would generate $5 million annually, which Johnson said the county needs to spend to catch up on around $101 million of unmet road needs.

Kabat said he isn’t in favor of a county wheel tax.

“A county wheel tax provides no benefit to the city of La Crosse. We have less than five miles of county highway in our city,” said Kabat, who estimates La Crosse has a total of 200 miles in local streets.

Kabat has proposed the city’s vehicle registration fee end after five years. He said it’s likely the state Legislature will make changes to road funding in the next session.

“This is only being proposed for a short period of time is a recognition that the state like to usurp local control and so there will be changes coming from the state level that will impact whatever we pass here,” Kabat said. “My hope is that we would at least be able to then have wheel tax in place for a period of time to try to address a higher level of service and fixes.”

Until last year, Kabat said the city was only fixing around three miles of roads each year. In 2017, city officials dipped into excess reserve funds to increase that to five miles. Kabat said the city is planning to do eight miles this year, but that will mean the end of the excess funds.

“We are exhausting or have exhausted all of the things that we can do as a city and I think that’s why I feel like now’s the time,” Kabat said.

Many local governments have added or are considering their own wheel taxes this year.

Green Bay, Madison and Wauwatosa officials have all considered local wheel taxes ranging from $20 to $30. Last month, Eau Claire County passed a $30 registration fee.