Supervisors adopt resolution continuing tax collections
By Heather Graves
BROWN COUNTY – The county board reluctantly adopted a resolution at its meeting Wednesday, April 21, to continue first installment property tax collections for municipalities for at least one more year.
“I want to give the municipalities a choice,” said District 20 Supervisor Devon Coenen. “And this is what we are dealt with, the hand we are dealt, then let’s give them the best choice we can give them, instead of no choice at all.”
This decision comes after County Treasurer Paul Zeller announced earlier this year his office would no longer collect first installment payments for municipalities, beginning with the 2021 property taxes, which it is not obligated by state law to do.
However, it’s a practice the county has done for more than a decade.
“I understand that in the vast majority of Wisconsin counties, municipalities collect their own taxes,” said District 17 Supervisor John Van Dyck. “Brown County’s process is unique, however, it is effective and it’s efficient. I can’t say that about turning everything back over and having the municipalities collect the taxes. I don’t recall any major issues or complaints regarding the Brown County’s tax collection process, until the Brown County treasurer decided to change the process.”
Zeller’s decision leaves many municipalities scrambling.
“This is very short notice,” said Mary Kardoskee, Ashwaubenon village president. “I’d like to see it continue because it was a great service and that is what our property taxpayers pay taxes for – is services. I understand that statutorily the county treasurer doesn’t have to collect the tax, and that you (the board) have no jurisdiction over the county treasurer, but I would like to say that I would like it if this was a continued service. And if not, at least one more year to let everybody get their feet under them, that they can actually figure out who’s going to collect the tax, how they are going to collect the taxes.”
The adopted resolution only includes towns and villages, not cities.
The City of Green Bay chose to start collecting their first installment payments a couple years ago.
The only other city in the county, De Pere, will have to start collecting its own going forward.
County Board Chair Pat Buckley said when negotiations with Zeller began, he had no interest in changing his mind.
“At the beginning of the meeting, he was not collecting the taxes,” Buckley said. “We worked for several hours to try and figure out a compromise. We got him to budge from not collecting at all, to collecting for the towns and villages, for a fee.”
As part of the resolution, municipalities will now be charged $1.60 per tax bill for continued collection of first installment payments.
It adds treasurer’s office staffing and uses any excess funds toward installation of an additional tax collection window.
District 24 Supervisor Richard Schadewald said the resolution isn’t perfect, but it’s the next best option.
“It (the resolution) allows towns and villages that want the treasurer to continue (to collect first installment payments) to pay the fee and have it continue,” he said. “You can vote against it and if enough vote against it, then you won’t have any collection by the treasurer and that storm of the towns and villages is going to be much worse than any storm of this compromise plan. The compromise is just that, a compromise. It doesn’t make anybody happy. But it’s the best we could come up with.”
District 26 Supervisor Keith Deneys said the towns and villages want that option.
“I’ve talked to every town chairman,” Deneys said. “I’ve talked to a number of administrators in the different villages. The majority of the towns all want to do this. Of the options given – collecting them themselves or doing this – they would rather do this.”
The resolution passed 22-3, but several board members said they felt their hands were tied.
“I find this to be rather unsettling in the fact that this compromise is basically putting this board as a hostage – saying, ‘Well, if you don’t agree to these things, then I am not going to do what you’ve asked me to do,’” Van Dyck said. “This situation is the result of a decision made by one person. We didn’t have any problems, and all of a sudden this blew up because one individual made a decision that they no longer wanted to carry on a practice that has been going on for 10, 15 years, longer, without any issues whatsoever.”
Some supervisors were also upset Zeller didn’t attend the meeting.
“He knows it is on the agenda,” said District 9 Supervisor Pat Evans. “It’s just a slap in the face to all of us and everybody else for not being here to publicly tell the reasons why. When you have an item at the county board, you have people coming from other municipalities and you don’t show up, that is an actual slap in the face to everybody in Brown County, to all of our constituents and certainly to the municipalities and the leaders of those municipalities.”
Evans said supervisors should keep this in mind come budget time.
“We hold the purse strings to that department, and we could send a clear message that ‘If you want to do this, then you don’t need all those employees,’” he said. “We can certainly find positions for employees in that department within the county, because we have needs. And we can shrink his department pretty quickly at budget time. I will be remembering this and I hope some of you do as well.”
Chad Weininger, director of administration, said the county will reach out to all county towns and villages with more details.