Kewaunee County Board considers sales tax
An ordinance establishing a half-percent county sales tax is expected to to face a final vote by the Kewaunee County Board at its September meeting, after the board’s Property and Finance Committee conducted a public forum on budget issues Monday evening at the County Fairgrounds in Luxemburg.
Kewaunee County is one of fewer than 10 Wisconsin counties that don’t collect the tax, supporters in the audience said.
A new revenue source is needed, County Administrator Scott Feldt told the gathering of around 100 people, to offset the loss of the dollars the county formerly received from the Kewaunee Power Station nuclear plant.
All local and county governments in Wisconsin maintain a fund to offset unexpected expenses. The amount in the Kewaunee County reserve account has been diminishing in recent years, Feldt said, as expenses have outstripped the county’s ability to raise needed revenue to operate, for example, the sheriff’s department, highway department and other aspects of county operations.
Even with cost cutting that has eliminated 10 percent of county staff (more than 25 employees) since 2011, the reserve fund would be emptied by the end of 2019, he said.
Feldt said officials have been looking at ways to further reduce expenses, considering eliminating the county’s Promotion and Recreation Department, the University of Wisconsin-Extension program, closing the county landfill or eliminating the Maintenance Department.
Among the choices for raising revenues considered by the county’s elected officials are a referendum asking voters to exceed Wisconsin’s property tax levy limits; imposing a $20-per-year wheel tax on every motor vehicle registered in the county to fund highway maintenance; increasing fees; or implementing a sales tax.
Property and Finance Chairman Lee Luft said people have complained to him that a local sales tax would hurt local restaurants and other businesses.
“The impact will be small,” Luft said, amounting to an additional 20 cents on a $40 restaurant tab.
Additionally, following Wisconsin sales tax regulations, “essentials – food and medicine – are not taxed,” Luft said.
Committee member John Mastalir said he opposed the idea of a sales tax when he was first elected to the County Board but now favors it.
“The sales tax is not the perfect answer, but it will get us by for a couple of years,” Mastalir said.
Another committee member, Chris Rasmussen, said that faced with a choice of a referendum on exceeding the state levy limit or imposing the local sales tax, “the sales tax is the lesser of two evils.”
The tax ordinance was given preliminary approval at the County Board’s Aug. 16 meeting. A final vote to adopt or reject the new law is expected to be part of the board’s Sept. 20 agenda.
If adopted, collection of the additional half-penny sales tax would occur in March or April 2017, with revenue first reaching the county treasury two months later.
This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press Gazette: Kewaunee County Board considers sales tax