WISCONSIN DELLS, Wis. - In just a few weeks, voters in La Crosse County will be asked in a nonbinding referendum whether to enact a premier resort area tax.
The funds generated from the tax are designed to go toward road repairs in the county.
Wisconsin Dells was one of the first communities in the state to enact the tax back in the late 90s
With $2 billion generated by tourists annually, the size of Wisconsin Dells swells during the summer months.
"You're dealing with a community of around 6,000 people, but we have an influx of between 5 or 6 million that come here every single year,” Wisconsin Dells Mayor Brian Landers said.
That's why Wisconsin Dells and neighboring city Lake Delton enacted the premier resort area tax back in the late 1990s.
It's now a 1.25 percent tax on hotels, restaurants and entertainment.
"The city of the Dells generates about $2 million dollars a year with the tax,” Landers said.
La Crosse County estimates it would generate $6.6 million in revenue by enacting a similar tax at 0.5 percent, to be used exclusively for road repairs.
"It's a rare new tool that we have as a county to try to generate new revenue for crumbling infrastructure on our roads and bridges,” La Crosse County Chair Tara Johnson said.
But In order to enact the tax, 40 percent of the equalized assessed value of property in the designated area must be tourism related.
La Crosse County sits at 5.1 percent, far below the threshold, and would require approval from the state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker.
Landers, whose city's percentage is 80 percent, doesn't think that is fair.
"I think they are infringing upon something of what that intent of that tax is meant to be,” Landers said.
But he also adds that state leadership, in particular Walker, isn't doing enough for road repairs, and forcing places such as La Crosse County to look at other options.
"He's now putting the burden on local governments to raise their own taxes, which I really think is going to cause more harm than good,” Landers said.
"This is a conversation is that is happening all over the state,” Johnson said. “We are out of options."
If the referendum passes in La Crosse County on April 4, it will require the approval of the state Legislature and Walker.
It must then pass a supermajority of the county board, before going back to area voters in a binding referendum.
In total, six communities, including Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton, have enacted the tax in Wisconsin.
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