Commentary: Taxation Without Representation

In the midst of large taxpayer-funded infrastructure projects in many Door County communities, a common refrain floats up from the population of non-resident property owners, or those who own a house or condo but can’t vote because they claim residency elsewhere.

“I pay property taxes but I can’t vote. That’s taxation without representation!”

It came up at the recent Gibraltar meeting where electors rejected construction of a bathhouse at the beach. It came up in Ephraim prior to the village board’s approval of a sidewalk on the highway. And Egg Harbor’s new library. The list goes on.

It’s an argument I understand and simply don’t agree with.

It is not just my subjective lack of sympathy for the waterfront condo or bluffside summer homeowner who feels disadvantaged because they don’t have as much control over the local government in the location of their second or third home. Or the fact that those property owners view voting in these communities as a rare privilege, whereas many of us don’t have another house in Florida or Arizona to retreat to when the weather gets cold.

The idea that non-resident property owners should be able to vote defies the one-person, one-vote foundation of our democracy. It’s possible to narrow a law prohibiting additional votes during federal or statewide elections, but the general idea consolidates power in the hands of those who can afford multiple properties rather than the balance of locals who live in the community. Not to mention the policy would likely result in the purchase and subdivision of properties, creating votes without any actual impact on the population or economy.

We would gladly welcome your residency and your vote, along with your Wisconsin income taxes, support of local businesses for a greater portion of the year, and your additional tally on the census that often drives allocation of state and federal funds (or at the very least, the number of liquor licenses in town).

I understand the frustration a property owner experiences when they have virtually no control over an increase to their tax levy. But the local officials should be given some credit. They created an environment that prompted you to purchase a second home here.

And honestly, where are you going to go? According to 2015 data, of the 1,851 municipalities in Wisconsin, every municipality north of Sturgeon Bay is ranked among the lowest taxed municipalities in the state. Even leaving Gibraltar, Ephraim or Egg Harbor for Liberty Grove will only save the owner of a $1,000,000 home just $150 in property taxes. That’s probably less than your closing costs. If you really want to stick it to these tax-crazed boards, you should head up to rural Vilas County.

Or, if you don’t like what the current board is doing in the municipality where you own property, come and call Door County your home. We would be happy to have you as a neighbor and passionate voice in the progress of our community.

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