City Pumps Brakes On Wheel Tax

Money to pay for resurfacing roads in Sturgeon Bay next year won’t be coming from enacting a wheel tax in the city.

Meeting as a committee of the whole Oct. 3, the Sturgeon Bay Common Council agreed not to include a wheel tax on motor vehicles registered in the city to raise revenue as part of the 2023 budget.

“It doesn’t seem like the right path for us,” said District 4 Alder Spencer Gustafson.

He said the list of Wisconsin municipalities with a wheel tax ranges from $10 on the low end to $40 on the high end, and Sturgeon Bay would have to charge $60-80 annually to get to its “sweet spot” to cover all or most of the cost of the city’s yearly road resurfacing.

City Administrator Josh VanLieshout said the city’s proposed resurfacing budget for next year is around $900,000, and based on an estimated 11,010 motor vehicles in the city for which a wheel tax would apply, a $10 annual fee would only raise $110,100.

Mayor David Ward said he has never been in favor of enacting a wheel tax.

“Back when I served as an alder, that did come up,” he said. “To me, it’s regressive, it nails people with less income, and it’s also only vehicle owners. Somebody who’s got a summer residence here, and they live in Nevada or Texas, or Florida residents, they don’t pay [the wheel tax].” 

VanLieshout said the city could revisit its special assessment policy and decide to assess property owners for road resurfacing, though that wouldn’t be popular with the affected landowners.

Council members instead expressed their preference to again urge the state Legislature to allow the city to enact a Premier Resort Area Tax (PRAT) to impose an additional 0.5% sales tax in the city as a means to raise more revenue for road work. That approach has not yielded results in the past.

Ward suggested speaking with state lawmakers when city officials participate in Legislative Days next year at the State Capitol.

The Door County villages of Ephraim and Sister Bay received legislative approval to enact a PRAT, but previous efforts to get lawmakers to do so for Sturgeon Bay have been unsuccessful.

“I just don’t understand how they could not consider us for this market and not provide for that provision for us,” said District 3 Alder Dan Williams.

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