Members of the Cologne City Council backed Carver County’s proposal for additional taxes to help pay for road improvements. But nobody on the city council was in as hurry to formalize that support Monday night (March 6).
Finally, Councilor Carol Szaroletta took the bull by the horns and formally stated her support for the county’s request the city council endorse the proposed package of a ½-percent local option sales tax, increasing the wheelage tax to $20, and a $20 excise tax on motor vehicle sales. The council, by consensus, unanimously agreed to endorse the county’s request.
Mayor Matt Lein will draft a letter indicating the city’s endorsement for the proposal. It will be delivered to the county board before its March 28 workshop. The council also indicated it would consider a formal resolution written by the city rather than the county’s version of a resolution endorsing the tax plan.
The tax increases the county is proposing will account for about $102 million of the additional $128 million revenue on currently unfunded road projects over 24 years. The proposed wheelage and vehicle excise sales tax increases will generate about $5 million annually for local use.
Szaroletta supported the proposal because without it, the unfunded plan to expand Highway 212 gets pushed back even further. “There seems to be a tax question,” Szaroletta said. “Nobody wants more taxes.”
The expansion of Highway 212 is critical for Cologne’s future growth, said Councilor Kyle Evanski. “The only way to get people here is to give them the means to get here. You’ve got to spend money to many money.”
Carver County’s plan is based on what it says is a $128 million funding shortfall in needed road projects over the next 24 years. The road projects are primarily in the eastern and southern half of Carver County and include expansion of Highway 212 from Carver to Cologne and from Cologne to Norwood Young America.
The state highway investment plan does not include any money to expand state roads in the county, Carver County Administrator David Hemze told the council last month. The Metropolitan Council, through its regional solicitation process, has chosen to distribute federal funds by focusing on transit, non-motorized vehicles, and preservation of roads and bridges, as opposed to expanding and building new roads, he said.
Other high-priority unfunded projects include expansion of segments of Highway 41 in Chaska and Highway 5 from Chanhassen into Victoria.
Council members Monday (March 6) indicated part of their support is linked to a desire to see the Highway 212 expansion project accelerated on the county’s list of 24 projects. The city council also wants to see improvements to Highway 284 added to the list.
“We all drive on 80 percent of those roads, but the one that affects us the most is 212,” said Mayor Matt Lein.
The mayor said the addition of Highway 284 to the list is iffy because of the long-term plans for an interchange at the intersection of Highway 212 and Market Avenue, just east of Highway 284. City officials expect Highway 284 will be the subject of turn-back talks from the state to the county in the years to come.
Carver County commissioners are planning a 9 am work session Tuesday, March 28.  Depending on board direction, the county could then hold a public hearing on Tuesday, April 18, 4 p.m. The earliest potential adoption of the proposed taxes is Tuesday, May 2.

In other action at the March 6 meeting, the Cologne City Council:
• Paid bills totaling $72,913.35.
• Granted the Cologne Fire Relief Association’s request for a temporary liquor license for April 29.
• Approved the purchase of Chromebook lap tops costing $399 each for council member use. City staff is continuing to research software to improve the efficiency of a movement to cost-saving paperless agenda system.
• Heard a report from Dean Johnson, the city’s contract planner, and Haila Maze of Bolton & Menk to work on the city’s 2040 comprehensive plan.
• Approved filling two vacant seasonal public works staff positions.