County Board approves half-percent sales tax

by Emmitt B. Feldner
of The Review staff


SHEBOYGAN COUNTY HIGHWAY Department crews are at work repaving County C between Plymouth and Sheboygan Falls. Proceeds from the half-percent sales tax approved by the County Board Tuesday will go toward road projects like this, as well as local projects through revenue-sharing with county municipalities. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner SHEBOYGAN COUNTY HIGHWAY Department crews are at work repaving County C between Plymouth and Sheboygan Falls. Proceeds from the half-percent sales tax approved by the County Board Tuesday will go toward road projects like this, as well as local projects through revenue-sharing with county municipalities. — Review photos by Emmitt B. Feldner SHEBOYGAN – The ha’penny will soon be part of the coin of the realm in Sheboygan County.

The County Board, by an 18-7 vote, Tuesday approved a one-half percent county sales tax, to go into effect Jan. 1, 2017.

The tax proceeds will be earmarked for road projects and equipment. It includes a revenuesharing provision that will send part of the proceeds to cities, villages and townships in the county for their road projects.

“I am opposed to taxes in general, but there’s a point at which if you want to deal with a problem, you have to raise taxes,” Supervisor Greg Weggeman stated. “We all like nice roads but you have to pay for them. In the long run, the taxpayers in this county will be better off if we do this than if we don’t.”

It was a sentiment echoed by other supervisors.

“We’ve been blessed to hold off (on the sales tax) as long as we could, but now that we have a need it is time to use it,” Supervisor Richard Bemis said, pointing out that state shared revenue for roads and other county needs has been cut severely over the years.

“I’m mad as hell to vote for this thing, but I’m going to because we’re in a bad situation,” Supervisor Brian Hoffmann added. “We have no choice. Thank you state Legislature and Gov. Walker.”

Before it began debate on the ordinance enacting the tax, the board heard from 10 public speakers on both sides of the issue.

Several municipality and business leaders – including Plymouth Mayor Donald Pohlman, Elkhart Lake Village President Alan Rudnick, Lima Town Chairman Charles Born and Sheboygan County Economic Development Corp. representative Dave Aldag – spoke in favor of the tax.

“Our residents and businesses deserve a safe road system and we believe this is a sensible way to get this done,” Aldag told the supervisors.

But a half dozen speakers, from an Oostburg teenager to a Sheboygan retiree, urged the board not to adopt the tax.

“Don’t say you are a fiscal conservative and vote for a tax increase like this,” town of Sheboygan Falls resident Glenn Lemmenes told the supervisors.

“It’s time to take a stand for the taxpayers of Sheboygan County,” added Sheboygan resident Kayla Gabrielse.

Sheboygan Alderman Mark Belanger termed the sales tax proposal “ridiculous.” He said that the city, which has 43 percent of the county’s population, will receive only 27 percent of the shared revenue from the tax, as the shared revenue formula is based on equalized valuation and not population.

“The city doesn’t have any county roads,” Belanger also pointed out. “The city’s not getting any equitable benefit from this process.”

Belanger noted that the Sheboygan City Council voted to oppose the county sales tax.

Supervisor Fay Uraynar was among those on the board who were firm in their opposition to the tax.

“The county is already taking $43 million in taxes from its citizens and this would take another $9.5 million,” she stated.

Uraynar decried what she said was a lack of planning on how the tax proceeds are to be used, stating, “We all know failing to plan is planning to fail.”

But Bemis responded that the county has an inventory of roads in need of repair, rated in priority of need, which he said the county has been unable to keep up with due to lack of funds.

Uraynar also contended that the tax proceeds will eventually be used to finance the county’s planned new Highway Department headquarters building in the town of Plymouth.

Weggeman rebutted her, stating that the building projects will be financed out of capital projects funds, Highway Department reserves and proceeds from the sale of county highway facilities that will be closed when the new headquarters building opens.

“This has nothing at all to do with the sheds,” Bemis agreed about the sales tax, saying the proceeds will be strictly for road work and necessary equipment.

Supervisor Roger Otten proposed removing the language to use proceeds for equipment purchases, saying, “I believe all the revenue must go to repair … roads and bridges.”

“You need equipment to do roads,” Supervisor Charles Conrardy responded.

Otten’s amendment was defeated by a vote of 23-2, with only Supervisor Steven Bauer joining with Otten.

The hour-long process of public addresses and debates before the final vote led to some contentious moments.

At one point, Weggeman accused Uraynar of being “all wet” in her calculations.

Uraynar later objected when County Administrator Adam Payne, in his regular report to the board, argued for the sales tax and responded to some of the comments from the public speakers.

When the vote finally came, only two city of Sheboygan supervisors – Uraynar and Otten – voted against the tax, along with supervisors George Marthenze, Fran Damp, Bauer, Libby Ogea and Brian Hilbelink.


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