GOT WHEELS? A wheel tax could be coming in Wausau

City leaders will decide Aug. 23 whether to bypass voter approval and immediately implement a $20 wheel tax for all cars and light trucks in Wausau.

The Dept. of Motor Vehicles would add the fee to upcoming registrations and renewals for vehicles registered in Wausau, generating an estimated $650,000 a year for the city. The vast majority of those funds—about $600,000—would go to fund fixing the city’s rapidly deteriorating roads, while the remaining $50,000 would go to support mass transit.

The tax could be a “double whammy” for Wausau drivers if Marathon County also implements a wheel tax, something County Supervisor David Nutting says is “all but inevitable.”

Dennis Smith, the lone finance committee member opposed to the tax, says the proposal is about as “popular as a root canal” with Wausau residents.

But Mayor Robert Mielke says the funds are badly needed as the city faces a looming $1.5 million budget deficit. “This is not something I want to be known for,” Mielke says. “But the fact is, our backs are up against the wall. The situation is dire.”

A current municipal ordinance requires a referendum to approve imposing any new fees, but the committee voted to repeal that ordinance, opening the door for the tax to be implemented without voter approval. Both Smith and Council President Lisa Rasmussen voted against the repeal.

“The most troubling thing about this whole thing is that we’re cutting out the public,” Smith says.

But Alderman Tom Neal told the committee that making tough decisions for the good of the community is what representative government is all about. “We are here to make tough choices,” Neal says. “We shouldn’t be worried about what voters think of us when the next election comes.”

Both proposals will go to the full council on Tuesday, Aug. 23 for a final vote.