Residents concerned about potential Portage Co. wheel tax

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PORTAGE CO., Wis. (WAOW) — Some Portage County residents are on edge after the possibility of a vehicle registration fee, or ‘wheel tax.’

County leaders held a public informational meeting on Monday, about a week until the county board plans to vote on the tax.

If passed, the wheel tax will be a $25 fee paid every year when residents register their vehicles, until 2024.

County Highway Commissoner, Nathan Check, said the county has previously borrowed money to maintain county highways but that just isn’t cutting it anymore.

“This is one of the few options we have afforded to us with the state statutes and current levy restraints,” Check said.

People living in Portage County, like Bob Ostrowski, questioned the tax during Monday’s meeting.

“There’s professionals out there that can do this work, would it be cheaper? And that’s my concern,” Ostrowski said. “I’m not against the wheel tax, if the money is spent wisely, but it seems to me there’s a lot of money being spent the way it wasn’t meant to be.”

Residents fear the temporary tax, will stick around for much longer than planned.

“I’ll tell you what, I’m 74 years old and every tax that I’ve seen put on, I’ve never seen taken off. And if it did, I missed it,” Ostrowski said.

County officials said the five-year plan could be shortened, stay the same, or be extended.

“The state law does not set any sort of time frame for it,” Check said. “Currently, the recommendation from our highway and finance committee is a five-year sunset. That can be repealed or amended at any time by the county board through ordinance action.”

The tax would generate $1.4 million per year, cutting the current $3 million deficit in half.

Only two other counties in north central Wisconsin have a wheel tax, including Marathon and Lincoln counties.

The county board will vote on the fee Nov. 20.

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