Like other area commuters, Cologne residents want good roads supporting a smooth flow of traffic for residential and commercial growth in the county. But they are also sensitive to increasing taxes to pay for those roads. Monday (March 6, 7 p.m.), the Cologne City Council will vote whether or not it will endorse Carver County’s proposal for a ½ percent local option sales tax, a $20 vehicle excise tax and increasing the existing wheelage tax from $10 to $20 dedicated to road projects in the county.
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 proposed tax increases, if approved, are expected to generate about $5 million annually for local use.
The state highway investment plan does not include any money to expand state roads in Carver County, said County Administrator David Hemze. 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.
Led by Public Works Director Lyndon Robjent and Commissioner Jim Ische of Hancock Township, officials from Carver County presented their proposal for the to tax increases to the Cologne City Council Tuesday (Feb. 21). Council members said they would stay in tune with their constituents on the issue and pay some attention to feedback via social media.
The proposal adds ½ percent to the amount of any otherwise taxable purchase within Carver County. The excise tax would be applied to the purchase of new and used vehicles. Existing vehicles will be covered by the annual wheelage tax. The county is proposing increasing that tax from $10 to $20. The county expects the ½ percent sales tax increase will account for about $102 million of the $128 million revenue increase over 24 years.

No Help Forthcoming
The county’s ability to approve  proposed taxes is a sign the state will not be providing the funding needed to maintain or expand the state and local roads in a growing county, Hemze said. The county can use that money itself, or use it to try and leverage additional millions in state and federal funding as Scott County did at the intersection of Highway 169 and Highway 41/County Road 78 in Jackson Township.
County officials and commissioners are presenting the proposed tax increases to city councils. They presented the information to the Carver County Township Association during the association’s annual meeting in January.
The county estimates the additional ½ percent tax will cost the average taxpayer about $2.61 per month. Mayor Matt Lein said he could support the proposal, especially if it keeps locally raised revenue in Carver County. But, the mayor said, he was uncertain if his opinion was representative of the community’s desires.
The county board is planning a 9 am work session Tuesday, March 28.  Depending on board direction, we may then hold a public hearing on Tuesday, April 18, 4 pm., Ische said. The earliest potential adoption of the proposed taxes is Tuesday, May 2.
“I am interested in listening to additional feedback on the proposal before committing to a vote,” he said.
Scott County implemented a similar local-option sales tax for roads in 2015.

In other action at the Jan. 21 meeting, the Cologne City Council:
• Paid bills totaling $52,099.20.
• Granted a request for the Cologne Lions Club for a charitable gambling permit for May 13.
• Discussed using tablet computers valued at no more than $550 apiece to replace printed agendas and meeting materials for city council members. The tablets are intended to save on printing costs as well as staff time. The council directed staff to continue researching the issue.
• Agreed to a one-year renewable contract with City Administrator Jesse Dickson. The contract included the standard allocations of vacation, sick time and personal days. An at-will employee, Dickson is the last city administrator in Carver County to receive an employment contract.