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Issues» October 2018

Farm Bureau Actively Engaging in Conversations Regarding the Cook County Wheel Tax

10/10/2018 @ 8:50 am | By Bona Heinsohn, CAE

In September, Cook County Farm Bureau® sent the following letter to the Department of Revenue and Cook County Commissioners regarding the Wheel Tax:

 

Numerous Cook County Farm Bureau® members have voiced concerns regarding the Cook County Wheel Tax.  We appreciate your willingness to engage in conversations regarding the issue.  In reviewing ordinance 18-5810, we have some concerns.  Please feel free to contact me at (708) 354-3276 or via email at bona@cookcfb.org.

 

License requirement

Sec. 74-552 provides that the operator of a vehicle subject to the Wheel Tax is subject to the same penalties as the vehicle owner.  In this situation, the operator could be a child, employee, or a friend of the owner.  Since the operator isn’t the owner of the vehicle, they can’t register the vehicle so why should they be punished for the vehicle operator not following the Code?

 

Business vehicle information

Sec. 74-559 provides that any vehicle that an employee is operating in the transportation of property upon the public ways of unincorporated Cook County must have the name and address of the owner and a serial number clearly painted on the side of the vehicle. 

 

While many business vehicles already inconspicuously provide the business name and a department of transportation number, a pickup truck and trailer being used to haul a commodity like hay or straw may not have the farm name and number painted on the side.  In this situation, the vehicle is not only being used by the business but is also be used for personal.  Both the truck and trailer will have farm plates, but the farm plates on the truck enable it to be used for non-farm activities like dropping the kids off at school.

 

Senior and no-fee licenses

Sec. 74-554 provides that certain vehicle operators are exempt from the Wheel Tax.  Cook County Farm Bureau recommends that the Code be amended to include a reduced cost for vehicles used exclusively in the commission of agricultural production.  These vehicles operate during a very limited timeframe- planting and harvest.  Provided below are definitions that can be used for agricultural production and crops, livestock and livestock and aquatic products.

 

“Agricultural production” means the production for commercial purposes of crop, livestock and livestock and aquatic products, but not land or portions thereof used for process of such crops, livestock or livestock or aquatic products. (505 ILCS 5/3.01)

 

"Crops, livestock and livestock and aquatic products" include but are not limited to the following: legume, hay, grain, fruit, and truck or vegetable crops, floriculture, horticulture, mushroom growing, nurseries, orchards, forestry, greenhouses and aquatic products as defined in the Aquaculture Development Act; the keeping, raising and feeding of livestock or poultry, including dairying, poultry, swine, sheep, beef cattle, pony and horse production, fur and wildlife farms, farm buildings used for growing, harvesting and preparing crop products for market, or for use on the farm; roadside stands, farm buildings for storing and protecting farm machinery and equipment from the elements, for housing livestock or poultry and for preparing livestock or poultry products for market; farm dwellings occupied by farm owners, operators, tenants or seasonal or year-round hired workers. (505 ILCS 5/3.02)

 

Fee schedule

Sec. 74-555 provides the following fees:

 

 

License Classes & Fees

FEES

Cook County

FEES

 

Illinois

Smaller passenger vehicles with a curb weight under 4,500 pounds

$80

$101

Larger passenger vehicles with a curb weight of at least 4,500 pounds

$100

$101

Motorcycles

$80

$41

All commercial trailers regardless of gross weight

$150

 

All non-commercial recreational trailers

$60

$41

Motor trucks, tractors semi-trailers units up to 10,000 pounds

$100

$54- $106

 

The fee schedule above illustrates that the fees being charged by the county are too much.  For example, the county motorcycle fee is double the state license plate fee for the same vehicle the county’s small vehicle license fee is over three-quarters of the cost of the state license plate fee for the same vehicle.

 

Funds from vehicle sticker purchases have long been used for roadway repairs.  But despite the income, many municipalities have eliminated the program citing the cost of enforcement, staff time, and the printing of stickers.  Vehicle stickers are also one of the most hated fees a unit of government can implement, which begs the question of why Cook County government still assesses motor vehicle licenses.

 

According to the Fiscal Year 2019 preliminary budget estimate, the county is facing a deficit of $82 million.  That same document provides that the wheel tax is estimated to raise a little more than $4 million or less than five percent of the deficit.  Given the limited revenue combined with unequal enforcement and the cost of enforcement, is the tax a necessary burden on the residents of unincorporated Cook County?

 

In addition, revenue from vehicle stickers are typically used to fund road improvement projects; bridge repairs; or public safety in the areas the fees are being collected from.  Can Cook County demonstrate the projects that have been funded with revenue from this license cost?