Portage County has been evaluating the long-term funding needs for the county’s highway infrastructure. As part of this evaluation, there have been various Highway Committee discussions during the Capital Improvement Program and annual budget process which have identified a significant revenue deficit for the highway program. In the past few years, this deficit has been covered with borrowing but the long-term sustainability of this option is questionable. As a result, the Highway Committee has requested that the vehicle registration fee option be evaluated.
Wisconsin law allows a town, village, city or county to collect an annual municipal or county vehicle registration fee (wheel tax) in addition to the regular annual registration fee paid for a vehicle. The fee applies to vehicles kept in the municipality or county with:
Truck registration at 8,000 lbs. or less (except dual purpose farm)
This includes most special license plates with automobile or truck registration. The following special plates are exempt from wheel tax: Antique, Collector (“Collector Special” plates are not exempt), Ex-Prisoner of War (if issued without registration fee), Historic Military, Hobbyist and Medal of Honor. All special plates issued to a farm truck, dual purpose farm truck or motor home are also exempt from wheel tax.
The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) collects wheel tax fees for the municipality or county, keeps an administrative fee of 17 cents per vehicle application and sends the rest to the municipality or county. WisDOT collects the wheel tax at the time of first registration and at each registration renewal.
State statute does not specify the amount of the wheel tax. However, the municipality or county must use all revenue from the wheel tax for transportation related purposes.
Additional details are provided in the attached: Portage County Vehicle Registration Fee Fact Sheet. Portage County Vehicle Registration Fee Fact Sheet
Fiscal Impact and Recommendation:
Detailed analysis of the Highway Department’s projected revenues, expenditures, and deficits are provided in the fact sheet. Based on a $25 fee, there is an estimated $1.4 million of additional revenue which would be generated by the fee which is to be used for transportation purposes.
While other options have been evaluated, the vehicle registration fee has been recommended for a number of reasons:
- The fee provides an additional reliable funding source.
- The fee has minimal administrative effort.
- The fee will go directly to a core county service.
- The fee stays in the local community and provides a return to all Portage County residents.
- The fee is not diluted by other demands and competition for the funds as it is required to be utilized for transportation services.
The Portage County Highway Committee and Finance Committee are discussing this issue for a recommendation to the Portage County Board during their November meeting.
Below are additional links for information regarding vehicle registration fees: