The pace of local road improvements has picked up in Benton County since enactment of the local option sales tax. Benton County joins 50 other Minnesota counties that collect a local sales tax for their County roads, including all of Benton’s neighboring counties. Look for these special signs around the County for projects funded with local sales tax.
Prior to the local option sales tax, the only source of funding for the County’s 226 miles of local roads was property taxes and the County wheelage tax. Local roads make up about half of the County’s 450 mile road system. The remaining miles are County State-Aid roads that qualify for State funding from motor fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees. Without a dedicated source of funding, County roads were falling into disrepair.
It became evident to the County Board that no additional funding would come from the State of Minnesota for our local road system, nor did the County Board want to increase the burden on property owners through higher property taxes. To help with this decision, the County Board asked the University of Minnesota Extension to study the possibility of a local option sales tax in Benton County. The Extension study, completed 2018, showed that 37% of sales taxes collected in Benton County were paid by persons residing outside Benton County. Local option sales taxes for transportation mirror the State sales tax by applying a tax to the same goods and services, but exempting essential items such as food and clothing. Benton County’s local option sales tax was enacted by the County Board in June 2019, and collections began in October 2019.
The County’s most recently adopted five-year road program calls for improvements to 103 miles of County roads through 2026, including locally-supported roads and County State-Aid routes. Local option sales tax, along with the County’s wheelage tax will fund all or part of 58 miles of those projects. Improvements will range from overlays to full reconstructions, depending on condition and traffic counts. Local funds will also go towards replacing two bridges over the next five years.
Major road projects already completed this Summer include County Road 46 in Sauk Rapids from State Highway 10 to State Highway 23. Also, County Road 55 just South of Rice underwent a reclamation and shoulder widening from County Road 2 to 105th Street NE near the southern boundary of the County’s Bend in the River Park. These projects, combined with a few smaller ones utilized $2 million in local option sales tax and wheelage tax.
Adding a local option sales tax will allow the County to address serious road condition problems without adding to the County’s property tax levy. One goal set by the County Board was to provide some levy relief with adoption of the local option sales tax. That goal was accomplished in 2021 when the County Board took $542,000 in levy and local aid that had been going towards local roads and instead used it to reduce the 2021 property tax levy. This action fulfilled the County Board’s goal of supporting local roads entirely with local option sales tax and wheelage taxes.
Local option sales taxes are expected to generate $2.5 million in 2021. Combined with an estimated $625,000 in wheelage tax, County funding for the local road system now closely matches what it receives for its State-Aid routes, helping to ensure the local road half of the County’s road system is maintained equally well.
Questions or comments about the local option sales tax, the County’s five-year road program or general concerns about County roads can be directed to the Benton County Public Works Department at 320.968.5051. You can also connect with the Highway Department through Facebook.