County board ends talk of ‘wheel tax’

La Crosse County Board voted 23-1 to postpone $20 vehicle registration fee

The La Crosse County Board voted down a proposal to add a $20 vehicle registration fee to fund road work in the county.

Thursday night the county board voted 23-1 to postpone the idea indefinitely. It also voted down a request by District 25 representative, Ray Ebert, to put what’s commonly know as a ‘wheel tax’ to referendum in April.

During the meeting, board members said they felt this isn’t the right time to add the ‘wheel tax’. Many said the residents in their district told them loud and clear they do not want the fee.

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You may be paying a little extra the next time you register your vehicle in La Crosse County. The county board is talking about adding a $20 wheel tax, but the decision to move forward may come in an uncommon way.

Ray Ebert, county board representative from District 25, wants to put the vehicle registration fee decision to a referendum. Ebert said the public should have a say in the decision.

But putting a county ordinance to referendum hasn’t been done in more than 20 years in La Crosse County.

Ebert knows no one wants to pay more taxes, including himself. But he also understands La Crosse County has about $39 million in unmet road needs.

“There’s nothing more important to economic development than good infrastructure, and good infrastructure starts with good roads,” Ebert said.

But Ebert said he hasn’t heard anyone say they want the La Crosse County Board to add a registration fee to vehicles. He has put in a request with the county board to put a referendum question on the April ballot, asking residents about the idea.

“We’re going to do something so big and so different in the way we fund roads that I think it’s worth getting input from the people,” Ebert said.

County Administrator Steve O’Malley has concerns about a referendum.

“We don’t have a process for dealing with that,” O’Malley said.

O’Malley said referendums are typically used for statewide issues and public schools, not county ordinances.

“How would the public even know the pros and the cons of the issue?” O’Malley said. “So to have a referendum where you don’t have a public information budget or some direction on that really almost defeats the purpose.”

Because of the uncommon situation, O’Malley asking the board to really think about their decision.

“County staff has not weighed in either in favor of or against the vehicle registration fee. That’s a policy matter, but I’m asking them to really think this through about when do you go to a referendum on a public policy issue that you have the authority to make,” O’Malley said.

“Well, I think we have an opportunity with the elections coming up to get reasonably priced input from our constituents,” Ebert said.

To get this referendum on the April ballot, a decision needs to be made on Thursday night. If not, there isn’t another opportunity for a referendum until 2016.

If the question is on the April ballot, the referendum would be non-binding, meaning no matter what voters decide, the county board makes the final decision.