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WILL Challenges Brown County Sales Tax

Conservative Group Files Lawsuit Alleging 0.5 Percent Sales Tax Is Illegal

Gavel and books on a desk
Joe Gratz (CC)

A conservative law firm is working with the Brown County Taxpayers Association to challenge Brown County’s new sales tax.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit in circuit court Tuesday alleging that a 0.5 percent sales tax the county board imposed beginning with the new year is illegal.

The firm argues state law allows counties to enact such taxes only if the money will be used to reduce property taxes.

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According to the lawsuit, Brown County officials plans to use the money for road, museum and park projects and maintenance at the Resch Center, the county’s multipurpose arena, rather than to defray property taxes.

“It can only be used to reduce the property tax levy,” said Tom Kamenick, deputy counsel for WILL. “It cannot be used to fund new spending, and what Brown County has done is to assess a tax to fund new spending. They’re looking to spend an additional $147 million over the next six years.”

The lawsuit demands a judge declare the tax void and unenforceable.

In May of 2017 the county board voted 23-3 in favor of using the tax money to pay for road repairs, updates to libraries, a new facility for a medical examiner, and a new jail.

Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach said the tax will also help the county pay down its $140 million in debt.

“We’re surprised to see an organization like the Brown County Taxpayers Association, who advocate for debt reduction, to be so opposed to such a plan that invests in the community and at the same time reduces property taxes and the debt,” Streckenbach said.

Without the extra tax, Streckenbach said the interest on bond loans would eventually increase property taxes.

The Brown County Taxpayers Association asserts the county is over-estimating the amount of sales taxes coming in from outside of Brown County. Instead of the $70 million the county says it stands to gain over six years, the association estimates it will be less than $20 million.

A voicemail left at the Brown County Corporation Counsel David Hemery’s office Wednesday wasn’t immediately returned. He told WLUK-TV that he believes the lawsuit lacks merit.

Editor’s Note: This story was last updated at 3:18 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 4, 2018 with additional reporting from WPR.