Businesses gather for discussion on possible new tax

Public has non-binding vote on measure in April

Businesses gather for discussion on...

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Area businesses had the chance to ask questions about the possibility of a premiere resort tax at a meeting in La Crosse County Wednesday.

La Crosse County will be asking voters this April in a non-binding referendum whether to pursue enacting a "Premiere Area Resort Tax" of 0.5 percent.

The tax would be on goods from a variety of industries, and would apply to both residents and non-residents of the county.

The county said the roughly $6 million the tax could generate would go to repairing county roads and bridges.

But some businesses are worried another tax could send buyers elsewhere.

La Crosse County has identified $87 million in road construction projects. But state funding for local roads, which originally came in at around 30 percent of the county's infrastructure budget, has fallen to roughly 17 percent.

"That means that over time, we've either had to allow roads to continue to deteriorate, or we've had to find other sources of revenue,” said La Crosse County chair Tara Johnson.

Currently the county borrows $2.7 million for minor road repairs. Under a premiere resort tax, the borrowing would end, instead, generate an estimated $6.6 million of revenue to be used for road repairs.

"You will see lower county property taxes if we are able to discontinue borrowing, because we've been able to replace it with this tax,” Johnson said.

The tax would affect everything from restaurants, hotels, to department stores and bakeries.

"Spread the cost of roads across a sales tax that will impact visitors and tourists that come to the areas as well as residents,” Johnson said.

Dan Wettstein was one of several business owners on hand at the meeting. While he wasn’t sure yet if his business would fall under a category, he worries that any local retail store or business that does qualify could suffer.

"If we match internet pricing, we're already at a 5.5 percent disadvantage, now it might be 6 percent disadvantage,” Wettstein said.

"It is a very valid question for local business owners to be concerned about whether or not this will have a negative impact on their business -- we don't know,” Johnson said.

But county officials said it is up to the voters this April whether the tax is a good idea.

"I'm sure the county board will not pursuit it if the referendum doesn't pass,” Johnson said.

To qualify becoming a "Premiere Resort Area," at least 40 percent of the equalized assessed value in the city, town or county wishing to enact such a tax must come from tourism-related retailers.

La Crosse County does not meet that threshold.

If the referendum were to pass, the Wisconsin State Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker would have to sign off on it, granting an exception to La Crosse County.

A supermajority of the La Crosse County Board must also pass the measure, before going back to voters in a binding referendum.

La Crosse County would be the first county to enact such a tax.

Six other cities and villages in Wisconsin have the Premiere Area Resort Tax.

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