Steffen holds listening session in Ashwaubenon
By Kevin Boneske
ASHWAUBENON – State Rep. David Steffen came Friday, April 27, to the Ashwaubenon village hall to hold a listening session, but only a handful of people showed up to meet with him.
In just over an hour while the late afternoon session took place, the two-term Republican lawmaker and former Howard village trustee who represents the 4th Assembly District shared his views on a number of issues with those on hand.
Steffen spent several minutes commenting on a bill he backed in the Assembly to eliminate what’s known as the dark store loophole.
The loophole allows commercial retailers and manufacturers to challenge the assessed value of their properties by claiming they are worth the same or close to the lower assessed value of similar but empty buildings.
Companies which challenge their assessments in court and win would be able to receive a retroactive refund with the affected municipalities having to make up the difference with that lost property tax revenue, such as with homeowners having more of the tax burden.
Though the measure to end the loophole didn’t pass in the last legislative session that ended this spring, Steffen said he hopes a bill to do so will be introduced when lawmakers reconvene next January.
“For right now this issue will continue to exist and continue to be a problem for Ashwaubenon and the rest of the state,” he said.
Given the amount of commercial property in Ashwaubenon, Steffen said the impact on homeowners could be significant.
He noted the full effect of the loophole has been estimated to have the potential to increase property taxes in the village by as much as $3 per $1,000 of residential property.
“If you have a $200,000 home, that’s an extra $600 you’re going to pay (in property taxes),” he said.
When asked about a provision inserted in the last biennial state budget to no longer allow municipalities to outright prohibit short-term rentals of single-family residences for seven or more consecutive days, Steffen said he’s against placing policy items in the budget.
“I hate the fact that there is pure policy that’s incorporated in the budget,” he said.
Steffen, who noted he favors more transparency in the budget process, said municipalities throughout the state have diverse situations.
He said Ashwaubenon has a “very unique situation” with an NFL franchise being part of the community.
“When you allow for a short-term rental situation to exist for this particular community, it’s such a dramatic, potential negative that doesn’t exist elsewhere,” he said. “So when the argument occurs, and especially if it’s a small, closed door discussion…someone can put forth an argument and say, ‘This is not a big deal, it won’t be a problem and so let’s just put it in the budget,’ without having any respect or understanding for how it affects Ashwaubenon.”
Because the provision was part of the overall budget, for which an up-or-down vote was taken, Steffen said “there wasn’t enough there, there to say ‘no’ on the entire $76 billion package for the state of Wisconsin because of that issue.”
However, Steffen said he has worked with village officials after the budget passed last year on how to revise the village code to regulate residential short-term rentals.
Village president Mary Kardoskee said the change in state law takes away local control in the village, which has had difficulty identifying residences where the short-term rentals are taking place.
“The people that are buying these houses are not from here,” she said. “They’re from Hawaii and California and Texas and New Jersey and Arizona and New Mexico and Madison and Chicago. What they end up doing is they don’t register. We don’t have the Public Safety (personnel) to be going out during a Packer game and checking with people, knocking on doors, saying, ‘Hey, do you own this house?’”
Kardoskee said there are people who are renting residences as short-term rentals being instructed by the owners to say they are their relatives from out of state and here for a game.
“They’re not paying the room tax, which is 10 percent,” she said. “But we’re trying to work our way through that, which is frustrating.”
Kardoskee said the properties used for short-term rentals are still considered residential dwellings with the change in state law, rather than commercial.
Steffen said once an item is inserted into the budget and enacted into law, it is difficult to remove.
“Why not put it in the back of the dark store bill?” quipped Kardoskee.
The village of Ashwaubenon is also dealing with a change in state law known as the homeowners’ bill of rights, which restricts what municipalities can do to disallow a conditional use permit.
Steffen said he expects that change will result in municipalities throughout the 4th Assembly District revising their ordinances related to language for conditional property uses.
The Ashwaubenon village code is now in the process of being amended to remove a number of conditional uses to ensure potentially incompatible conditional uses are not allowed within various zoning districts.
Previously listed conditional uses are being recommended to change to permitted uses where potential land use conflicts are unlikely.
“The biggest thing is now with our Sports and Entertainment District,” Kardoskee said. “It’s one of the districts (where there are) just things that you don’t want. (These uses are) not in our comprehensive plan.”