La Crosse Mayor Tim Kabat Tuesday announced his intention to introduce a wheel tax for the city.
He’s proposing a motor vehicle registration fee, also known as a local wheel tax, of $25 per vehicle that would sunset after five years, which Kabat says would allow the city to catch up on street repairs and build quality roads. The proposal would generate $1.2 million in additional transportation funding each year, which Kabat said would allow the city to keep fixing five to seven miles of road per year.
“If we can do that over the next several years, we will make some great progress in getting caught up and especially addressing some of these really chronic streets,” Kabat said.
The mayor is looking to a wheel tax because of flat state aid and shared revenue, plus limited options to raise property taxes due to state-imposed levy limits.
“We do not necessarily have a whole lot of other funding mechanisms to focus on transportation,” he said.
Any funding raised through a wheel tax is required by law to be used for transportation-related purposes, which Kabat said was a point in its favor compared with raising property taxes to cover costs.
“Every dollar that we raise has to be spent on the streets, on transportation,” Kabat said.
The proposal, which would affect all automobiles and trucks registered in Wisconsin and kept in the city of La Crosse, comes after the city made efforts internally to address its infrastructure, the mayor said.
“We tapped into our excess reserve funds the last several years to add more miles of street repairs, and so that’s kind of a one-time deal,” Kabat said.
The city has allocated about $7 million in the past few years to street repairs, which allowed it to go from fixing 3 to 4 miles of roads to 8 miles in 2018.
The mayor stressed that the city has also made changes within the street department, purchasing different equipment and other efforts.
“We squeezed out a bit more efficiency with our current staff,” Kabat said. “We don’t have a lot of other options to do this.”
It’s far from a done deal, but the mayor said the question of whether to institute a wheel tax was an important one.
“I really believe we should have the conversation, and having it during our budget process makes sense,” Kabat said.
The mayor has scheduled public hearings for 5 to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 27 and 30 in the La Crosse Common Council chambers at La Crosse City Hall in addition to the public hearing to be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 4 during the regular Judiciary and Administration Committee meeting.
Kabat built in a five-year sunset clause to allow a future city council and mayor to revisit whether it’s necessary, needs changing or is still supported, and to adjust to any changes in state requirements.
“I’m anticipating that the state is going to weigh in. They’re going to provide some direction to the locals because that’s been their practice to dictate how locals go about our business,” Kabat said.
The mayor said he would not support La Crosse County’s proposed $56 wheel tax, which will be up for a vote in a referendum in November, saying he would expect those funds to be focused on roads outside the city.
“I don’t see city of La Crosse getting very much benefit at all from the $56 wheel tax the county is considering,” Kabat said.