The wheelage tax collected by Hennepin County goes up by $10 starting Jan. 1, but Drive reader Gretchen wondered if the county started collecting the higher fee early.

"I went to pay my car tabs today and happened to notice that my wheelage tax for tabs due this month was $20," she wrote in an e-mail after visiting the Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS) office in Maple Grove in early December. "I did ask (nicely) at the service counter if they knew why the early rate increase, but this was met with 'this is the rate listed in the system, so that is what must be paid.' "

Alas, it was only $10, hardly an amount worth launching a time-consuming investigation, she conceded. But Gretchen was perplexed and wondered if there was a better explanation.

The Drive took Gretchen's query to Anna Abruzzese, division manager for Hennepin County's Resident and Real Estate Services. Turns out there is nothing nefarious or improper going on. Blame it on the calendar and a state law specifying how long tabs are good for and when the new tabs go into effect.

Minnesota law requires DVS to register vehicles for 12 months. Registration stickers expire on the last day of the month they were issued. In Gretchen's example, her license tabs due in December 2019 expire on Dec. 31. Her new tabs for 2020 take effect on Jan. 1, thus allowing the county to collect the higher wheelage tax.

"It's a weird quirk," said Abruzzese, noting it's a situation that only people who have tab renewals due in December will face. "The notices are being done right."

There are 53 counties in Minnesota that collect the tax which has been allowed by state law since 2014. For the first four years, counties could charge only up to $10 per vehicle registration. Last year, the state Legislature allowed counties to raise the tax to as much as $20.

Hennepin County generates about $10 million per year for road and bridge projects by assessing the wheelage tax. The money has been used to repave hundreds of miles of roads, upgrade traffic signals with flashing yellow left-turn arrows, install cameras at key intersections, and repair or replace curbs and gutters. With the tax hike, the county will now have $20 million available for road and bridge projects, the county said.

Besides better roads, the extra money means the county will be able to reduce the amount it collects through property taxes by $5 million, the county said.

Observant drivers will notice that the filing fee for tab renewals recently increased from $6 to $7, and a $2.25 technology surcharge is now applied to motor vehicle transactions.

More questions about tabs

Drive reader Bill wanted to know if there is a grace period when it comes to renewing license tabs.

"I've always heard that you have until the 10th day of the month following expiration to get them on your vehicle," he wrote in an e-mail. "Is this true?"

Yes, said Megan Leonard, a public information officer for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety's Department of Vehicle Services.

As mentioned above, license tabs expire on the last day of the month, and drivers must renew their registration by the expiration date, she said.

"If your registration month is May, your registration expires May 31." Leonard said. "You will need to renew your registration by May 31, but you have until June 10 to put the stickers on your license plates."

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