WORTHINGTON — Nobles County commissioners on Tuesday formally requested Public Works Director Stephen Schnieder begin to compile a list of transportation projects that could be funded if the county enacted a new half-cent sales tax. The tax would be in addition to the $10 wheelage tax that was implemented in 2014.
Discussed a week ago during a county board work session, Schnieder said transportation funding for his department is at an annual shortfall of $3 million. Nobles County is not alone, and he said other counties are considering implementing half-cent sales taxes to generate more revenue to fund road projects.
Nobles County Administrator Tom Johnson said the tax would generate an estimated $930,000 per year for the county, according to information obtained from the Minnesota Department of Revenue. The Department of Revenue would keep a small percentage of the funds for collecting and managing the tax.
Board chairman Matt Widboom asked at last week’s work session if the county could use the tax revenue generated to pay off bonds if the county wanted to bond to start projects sooner, rather than wait to build up a fund over a period of several years. Schnieder said a recent change in state law makes bonding a viable option.
If the county chose bonding, there would be interest payments on the bond. If it opted to build up funding and then do projects, there would also be the added cost due to inflation, Schnieder explained.
“Bonding would be a good option to move things forward,” he added.
“I hate putting any other tax on, but I don’t see any other option for getting these projects done,” said Commissioner Justin Ahlers.
“I don’t like local government having to prop up what the state and federal government should be doing,” added Commissioner Donald Linssen. “That’s what we’re doing here. I support it going forward.”
Commissioner Gene Metz asked if Schnieder could compile a list of projects to be done within the next 10 to 15 years with the tax revenue that would be generated.
“I’ll probably have a list that far exceeds that, just by dollar amount,” Schnieder said. “You’ll have more than enough than what you can accomplish with the funding.”
Once Schnieder has compiled the list, a public hearing will be scheduled on the proposed tax and the projects identified to be funded with it.
County authorizes letter of support for Bigelow broadband
Metz briefly stepped down from his board role to submit a request on behalf of Lismore Telephone Company (LTC) seeking a letter of support for a state broadband grant. LTC seeks $502,248 in grant funding to deliver broadband fiber to residents in the city of Bigelow.
“We were excluded out of Bigelow in the first project because the existing carrier said they would provide fiber to Bigelow,” Metz said. “They did not.”
The grant application is due soon, and Metz said if the application is successful, LTC could receive notification by late November.
“The engineering is all done on it,” he said, adding that if the grant is received, the fiber would be installed to the city sometime next year.