Dakota County commissioners on Tuesday voted against a move to disband a board that funds big transit projects in the metro area.
It's the same body — called the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB) — that Dakota County voted last year to leave.
Since then, the remaining CTIB members from Hennepin, Ramsey, Anoka and Washington counties have voted to disband, a move that would free each county to levy up to a half-cent sales tax for transportation purposes. Currently, CTIB counties charge a quarter-cent sales tax for transit projects, as well as a $20 fee on new car sales.
But by voting against CTIB's dissolution on Tuesday, the Dakota County Board put the brakes on the breakup, because all five counties must agree to disband. Dakota County says CTIB owes it $29 million and won't budge until it's paid. Other members of CTIB put the figure at $16.5 million.
Since forming in 2008, CTIB has provided nearly $1 billion for metro-area transit projects, including the Green Line LRT. But state money for metro-area transit has dried up, leaving planners looking for other revenue.
"I feel like our ask [to leave] was reasonable, and now we're swept in a game where we have to compromise," said Dakota County Commissioner Mary Liz Holberg. None of her colleagues on the board appeared ready to haggle with CTIB.
In the past nine years, Dakota County has raised $122 million from the transit tax, but the county got only $52 million in transit grants, a return of about 43 percent.
The $29 million would bring the county up to about a 67 percent return, Holberg said. The county is also looking for additional refunds, should CTIB disband.
CTIB Chair Peter McLaughlin said Dakota County is serving up "phony numbers, I'm sorry to say. Now they're standing in the way of all the counties who voted to get out of CTIB and preventing everyone from moving forward."
Dakota County Commissioner Thomas Egan said McLaughlin, also a Hennepin County commissioner, got his numbers "out of thin air."
Unless a deal is reached, CTIB will continue in its current form until 2019.
Meanwhile, the remaining CTIB counties have either scheduled or held public hearings on the dissolution and the possibility of a transportation sales tax increase.
Only Hennepin and Ramsey counties, which held a public hearing Tuesday, are expected to increase the tax if CTIB dissolves. The county boards must hold hearings and vote by March 31 to have time to retool tax code and begin collecting money by July 1.