Letter to the Editor: Open Letter to the Municipalities of Washington County | By Joshua Schoemann

Sept. 23, 2017 – Washington Co., WI – On behalf of the Executive Committee of the County Board of Washington County, an Open Letter to the Municipalities of Washington County.

Dear Partners and Neighbors: We have received numerous copies of the resolution circulating amongst many of your Boards/Councils, respectfully requesting the redistribution of the county sales tax.

In response, we write to you today to respectfully decline consideration of this request. Instead, we reaffirm our invitation to collaboratively seek opportunities for shared services and consolidation where it may be of mutual benefit to the County, your municipality and all Washington County taxpayers.

Over the past many decades Washington County leaders have worked hard to maintain the fifth lowest property tax rate of all 72 counties, to maintain the second lowest spending rate per capita of both surrounding and comparable counties (despite having a county sales tax), and to reduce our general obligation debt to the lowest rate per capita of both surrounding and comparable counties.

In fact, it was in pursuit of these important milestones that the county sales tax was instituted in 1999 – “to directly reduce the property tax levy…and debt retirement from capital projects” (not the 2005 Cabela’s project).

Furthermore, the sales tax was reaffirmed in 2005 “as a direct offset to the county property tax levy in the annual operating budget” allowing for the County to have a lower tax levy in 2015 than we had in 2005.

Then, in 2010 the sales tax was again modified, this time to assist local municipalities and taxing jurisdictions by stimulating “economic development projects,” resulting in 1,491 new jobs and $202 million in new private sector investment into the local economy across 49 projects in the majority of Washington County Towns, Villages and Cities from 2011 to 2016.

Since sales tax is one of only two primary revenue sources which county governments in Wisconsin control, and because it is an important contributing factor in achieving this good position of fiscal health in Washington County, we feel it would be a violation of our fiduciary responsibility to Washington County taxpayers to redistribute the county sales tax revenue, beyond our current economic development efforts.

We also believe redistribution would necessitate the need for the County to borrow money for annual capital expenses, raise new taxes, and/or cut services to citizens.

We simply do not feel that it is in the best interest of Washington County taxpayers to engage in this type of revenue shift, and the inevitable cost shift that would follow.

With that said, we certainly understand and appreciate your desire for additional financial flexibility to provide current levels of service to taxpayers. We face similar financial pressures related to tax levy freezes as you do, and similar difficult decisions about levels of service.

To help better understand these financial pressures, specifically as they relate to our organization, Office of the County Administrator Joshua Schoemann, County Administrator 432 E. Washington St. West Bend, WI 53095-7986 Phone (262) 306-2200 FAX (262) 306-2201 WI 1-800-616-0446 [email protected] the County has created a Fiscal Health Tool.

As even the most optimistic projections in this tool demonstrate, which include full utilization of the County’s entire annual sales tax revenue, the County will start every annual budget process for the foreseeable future with a minimum of a $1 million difference between new revenue and new expense.

Simply stated, Fiscal Health is not a West Bend problem, a Hartford problem or a Washington County problem, it’s a problem for all units of local government in Wisconsin.

We have worked hard in recent years to develop plans, strategies and priorities to address these financial pressures. The culmination of this work is our acknowledgment of the stark reality that in order to survive and thrive, local governments in Wisconsin must fundamentally reinvent themselves.

To this end, while redistribution of the county sales tax may make good headlines, and could arguably be a win in the short term, in the long run this approach will do very little to usher in the type of reinvention we believe is necessary to stem the tide of the fiscally and politically unsustainable model for local government in Wisconsin.

Furthermore, we believe that Washington County taxpayers collectively have a greater desire to see lower property taxes and less government through shared services and consolidation.

Again, an approach of redistribution of county sales tax would do very little to achieve this desire.

As an alternative to the redistribution of county sales tax, we rekindle our invitation for you to consider any and all opportunities for shared services and/or consolidation which may lend themselves toward reinventing local government in Wisconsin, and which may achieve Washington County taxpayers’ collective desire to see lower taxes, less government and quality services.

We continue to stand ready and willing to consider all such opportunities with you.

Thank you for your continued partnership.

Sincerely and Respectfully,

Joshua Schoemann

 

 

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