Sales tax, license fees help support Otter Tail County’s 1,000 miles of road

By Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent

Chuck Grotte, Otter Tail County Highway Engineer

Otter Tail County, since 2016, has administered a half-cent sales tax. Money from this tax is used for road and bridge maintenance. 

Heading these projects is County Engineer Chuck Grotte.

Also taking effect in 2016 was a county charge of $10 added to vehicle license tab renewals, later increased to $20 per vehicle in 2018. This money also goes to road and bridge maintenance.

Total funding from these sources, from 2016 to 2021, came to $25.4 million.

Otter Tail County is larger than the state of Rhode Island, and paved roads total 1,062 miles.

“The backbone of the highway system in Otter Tail County requires lots of financial investment,” Grotte emphasizes. “County residents who have attended public meetings in previous years have expressed their desire for their roadways to be maintained at the highest level.”

County commissioners, over the years, have also emphasized to county taxpayers that the half-cent sales tax and license fees are necessary. That’s because, according to commissioners, other funding sources (state, federal, and county levy taxes) have fallen short of what has been needed for road and bridge maintenance in recent years.

Road maintenance is costly

For example, resurfacing projects in 2021 totaled close to $9.4 million. Included was work along Highway 67 near New York Mills, Highway 8 near Perham, and Highway 5 near Clitherall.

County residents, at public hearings, overwhelmingly supported the half-cent sales tax and license fees before those programs were passed by county board members.

Area counties that also have half-cent sales taxes and license fees for roadways include Becker, Douglas, and Wadena counties.

The county sales tax applies to items already taxed as part of the state sales tax system. The half-cent tax does not include a tax on food, clothing, or other items that are not taxable in Minnesota.

More about county highway department

An engineering section of the Otter Tail County Highway Department, headed by Grotte, has a staff of nine people.

They are responsible for inspections, engineering design, and construction of highways and bridge projects. This section also provides technical support to other county departments.

The maintenance section of the county highway department, also headed by Grotte, includes 33 individuals who provide routine maintenance services to the highways and bridges throughout Otter Tail County.

These maintenance operations are divided into five maintenance areas which contain a total of 10 garages in various sections of the county. Snow plowing during the winter months is part of their job descriptions.