County sales tax is paying us all back

IF YOU DRIVE ON a county highway, town road or city or village street this summer is disrupted or detoured, you can thank that extra penny you paid last year on every $2 worth of taxable purchases you made in the county.

And when you drive smoothly and safely on one of those newly-repaved, repaired or rebuilt highways, roads or streets, you can also thank those few extra pennies.

Sheboygan County adopted a one-half percent county sales tax beginning Jan. 1, 2017, with the proceeds earmarked for road maintenance and repair – including a unique revenue-sharing provision that set aside $2.5 million of the proceeds to go to all towns, villages and cities in the county for them to use on road projects as well.

It was an effort by the county to meet a desperate need for road maintenance and upgrades that was going unmet in the regular budget – both at the county level and locally – because of budget and tax levy limits and restraints.

Given the total mileage of county roads and their life expectancy, the county needs to maintain roughly 30 miles of roads a year to keep even with those needs. But the county was falling far short of that goal and had no way to catch up without burdensome, costly borrowing or cuts in other necessary county services before adoption of the sales tax.

Last year, the county got back on schedule – and even a little ahead – with the additional revenue and will be even more so this year.

County Administrator Adam Payne reported to the County Board last month on the sales tax revenues from 2017. Over 11 months – there is a one-month gap between collection of the tax by the state Department of Revenue and the return of that money to the county by the DOR – the county received more than $8 million from the sales tax.

The county had projected $6.75 million in sales tax revenue when setting the 2017 budget two months before the tax went into effect. That means the county collected more than $1.25 million than it projected.

That additional money, as the county had pledged when the sales tax was first approved, went into the Transportation Department fund balance – which means even more money to repair and maintain roads this year and beyond.

For 2018, the county projected $9 million in sales tax revenue, which should be a more accurate number based on what came in in 2017.

That extra penny on a cup of coffee or other $2 purchases county residents paid last year are now bearing fruit in better roads. More importantly, visitors and non-county residents who use those roads as well are also bearing their share by paying the sales tax on purchases here in the county.

Of all the services provided by local government, roads are probably the most widely used by their constituents. All of us rely on roads – either directly, to get us to and from home, work, school, shopping and more; or indirectly, to bring us the goods and services we need every day.

That means all of us will be able to see and utilize the benefits of those extra pennies – which for the average county residents add up to about $67 a year – every day.

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