Sauk City to vote on Wheel Tax

In order to pass a balanced budget, board will need extra revenue
Autumn Luedke

The Village of Sauk City will face a choice at their public hearing Nov. 26: accept a Wheel Tax or reject the 2020 budget. The board discussed a Wheel Tax last month, in order to balance the budget. This the first time the wheel tax will actually be presented in front of the public for a vote.

If the budget passes at the hearing, the board will pass an ordinance approving the Wheel Tax later in the meeting.

State law allows municipalities to collect an annual local vehicle registration fee, known as a wheel tax, in addition to the annual vehicle registration fee. The fee applies to vehicles kept in the municipality or county with automobile registration or truck registration at 8,000 lbs. or less, except dual purpose farm vehicles. The state department of transportation collects the fees on behalf of the municipality and keeps a small portion as an administrative fee. The rest of the funds go back to the municipality.

Village president Jim Anderson has voiced support for the fee over the past few years, because the village has had a difficult time balancing the budget.

“(State) Levy limits imposed on us keep us from being able to balance our budget,” Anderson said. Anderson was speaking to the state statute which limits how much a municipality can tax its residents based on a percentage of new growth from the previous year. Like many rural communities, Sauk City has been experiencing a period of slow to no growth. So, while insurance premiums rise and other state mandates require the village to spend more money adhering to those mandates, it becomes tougher and tougher for communities to balance their budget without having to cut services. Anderson said a wheel tax would help with that. The fee. This would put the village just shy of reaching the $45,000 it needs to balance the budget. If the wheel tax passes, trustees would have to find little to trim from the budget as opposed to $45,000.

The village’s proposed wheel tax would be $20; Sauk City would receive $19 after the state takes it cut for collecting the fees.

One trustee who has been outspoken against the wheel tax implementation likened it to “legalized theft” from residents.

“I think you know, I am vehemently opposed to a wheel tax,” Stave Haag said. “It’s like if you have a budget at home and you exceed your budget and overspend – it’s like stealing from your neighbor to cover your mistakes. That’s what we have done here. We can’t keep doing that. We’re just taking from Peter to pay Paul. We should be looking at staying within our limits to we don’t have to do this.”

Anderson said discussions with state representatives garnered the same result: A wheel tax. “They said a lot of communities are implementing a wheel tax to help balance their budget,” Anderson said. “I don’t agree that we are overspending … there are limits on what we can spend imposed by the state.”

Anderson said regardless of the consensus, a solution has to be found. “No one wants to cut services,” Anderson said. “And after looking at our budget, I am not sure where we would even cut services.”

Village trustee Richard Marks agreed with Anderson with the point that some mandates issued by the state cost funds that could be better spent within the village’s annual budget.

“You know the Comprehensive Plan we have to have every year irritates me,” Marks said. Wisconsin municipalities are required to have a comprehensive plan in order to be eligible for grants and other incentives offered by the state.

“I think you guys did a really good job,” Marks said of the village budget. “I am amazed at what our taxes are here compared to other places.”

Major changes to the proposed 2020 budget include cutting a park employee requested by the Parks and Recreation Department. With wages and benefits, that saved the village just over $65,000.

On the other side, the recreation department was able to save a little more from its budget when it got a better quote from the engineering firm asked to help with its Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan. However, the funds the department allocated for the project were removed the from the budget.

Breunig said there was interest in trying to find the funds for that project to be included in the budget, and proposed a one-time opportunity for the village to be able to do that. The comprehensive plan allows the department to apply for grants that help fund various services they offer. Breuing said each year the state allows a municipality to carry over unused funds from its levy capacity. However, the state will no longer permit this after 2020.

“If we took that line item to zero we could add that back to the rec department’s comprehensive plan,” Breunig said. “But after this, we won’t be able to carry forward funds after this in the future.”

Another proposed change would be to advertise to hire a part time city employee to help two to three days per week with park maintenance and upkeep. In the past, the village has just hired back employees from previous seasons. However, it doesn’t appear to be the most efficient way for the village to spend its dollars. Bringing a dedicated employee on with set standards and requirements would help.

A public hearing allows the public to make comment on the budget. The hearing will occur during the regular board meeting, on the 22nd, at 7 p.m.

Joe Block contributed to this story.

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