By Brandi Makuski
Though it was listed as a “discussion-only” item on the Sept. 12 agenda, a possible wheel tax for Stevens Point was quickly dismissed as a viable option for generating additional revenue in the city.
Modeled after a similar tax recently approved for a referendum vote in Wausau, City Treasurer Corey Ladick said the proposal would likely not have the desired result city officials would hope for.
“While I am not recommending that we pursue this option, it is worthy of discussion, especially since a number of municipalities are turning to this option in order to solve their infrastructure funding challenges,” Ladick said in a memo to the Finance Committee.
Known also as a Citywide Vehicle Registration Fee, Stevens Point residents would pay an annual fee of either $10 or $20, which would be added to the cost of registration with the Dept. of Motor Vehicles. The tax would apply to all vehicles of city residents weighing less than 8,000 pounds.
According to Ladick, there are just under 23,800 applicable vehicles registered in the city. At the $10 fee, the city could generate an additional $237,990; if the fee were $20, the revenue generated would total just shy of $476,000.
The fee would not apply to residents who live outside the city, Ladick said, “even though they do use our roads.”
Ladick said there were a number of reasons he did not support the proposal.
“Property taxes are actually a good way to raise revenue, from the perspective that it is tax deductible for residents, so they do get some tax benefits there,” Ladick said. “We also do get some state aid payments based on what we charge for property taxes.”
Ladick said some of that state aid was used to fund road maintenance in the city.
“This [tax] wouldn’t apply to anything bigger than a pickup truck, and you’ve got a lot of bigger vehicles putting a lot of wear and tear on the roads,” he added.
Ladick also said he’d recommend an increase in property taxes as the preferred method to generating additional revenue in the city — something he said was needed in light of increasing costs for maintenance and equipment across all city departments.
The idea for the new tax was first proposed by Councilwoman Mary McComb at the August Finance Committee, when city leaders were discussing the need for more revenue.
“Some communities do something called a ‘wheel tax’,” McComb said last month. “I don’t know if that’s ever been considered here, but it would seem fair to me.”
At the same meeting, Councilwoman Cathy Dugan said she felt the city should tax all wheels coming in and out of Stevens Point, ostensibly unaware the city had no authority to tax residents who lived outside city limits.
This week, Dugan changed her mind and said she agreed with Ladick’s, adding she was “impressed” with the amount of information Ladick compiled for the committee.
Mary Kneebone, alderwoman for District 7, said the wheel tax would be an extra hardship “to people in the lower economic levels.”
“An extra $20 might mean a tank of gas,” she said.
Mayor Mike Wiza said he also objected to the wheel tax, saying it was something previously discussed under former City Treasurer John Schlice, and discounted at that time for the same reasons Ladick listed.
One area resident argued the committee was wasting time discussing an issue that garnered no dissenting opinion and was not up for a vote.
“If you’re advocating not to do this, why put it on the agenda?” Asked area resident Reid Rocheleau. “If you start going down this route, you’re going to be like New York City, and you’ll have a soda tax…what are you going to do next? I don’t know how this got on the agenda. If you want to do something that makes sense, how about a bike tax?”
Wiza defended the decision to include the topic on the meeting agenda, saying the move was done for the sake of transparency.
“We wanted to let the public know we’ve thought about it; we’ve evaluated it and we’re trying to be as open as possible,” Wiza said. “I know when I was an alderperson, you got stuck with the end result; you didn’t always see how we got there. This is just an effort to show that yes, we did think about this. But the decision is not mine or the comptroller-treasurer’s — it’s the alderpersons’.”