Jun 29, 2013

Portage, Wisc Mayor Says to Scott Walker: Leave Local Control to Communities

Walker: I know what's best for your town.
At stake is local control, said the Portland, Wisconsin Mayor.  'Let that be the Portland Common Council’s decision, not the folks in Madison.'

Republican efforts to take away local control of communities continue to draw demands that Wisconsin villages, towns and cities know what it is best for homes, and not Scott Walker and the Republicans legislature.

From Portage, Wisconsin, Mayor Bill Tierney became the latest municipal official to blast Scott Walker in a letter delivered to Walker by two Wisconsin state senators.

By Lyn Jerde, Portland Daily Register

Portage Mayor Bill Tierney is asking Gov. Scott Walker to veto a provision of the 2013-15 state budget that, if enacted, would cost Portage $205,000 in property tax revenue next year.

Joining Tierney are two lawmakers who represent the Portage area, Rep. Fred Clark, D-Sauk City, and Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton.

In a letter to Walker dated Friday and signed by Tierney, Clark and Erpenbach, objections are raised to a budget provision inserted by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance that would require towns, villages and cities to offset their allowable property tax levy by the amount of new revenue collected to fund services that would otherwise be paid for with property taxes.

The Portage Common Council on June 17 voted unanimously to move ahead with the creation of a stormwater utility, funded by fees from property owners.

In 2013, Tierney said, the city budgeted $205,000 in property tax revenues for stormwater treatment. With the utility, all property owners — even government bodies, school districts and nonprofit organizations that are exempt from city property taxes — would pay fees that would cover the cost of stormwater treatment.

Tierney noted that under current rules, the Common Council could choose to reduce the amount of property tax money that the city collects to offset the fees collected. Or, it could use the $205,000 in tax revenue, now used for stormwater treatment, for other infrastructure improvements.

When Tierney found out about the provision, he said he contacted Clark’s office, only to learn that the Assembly had already passed the budget.

At stake is local control, Tierney said.

“Let that be the Common Council’s decision, not the folks in Madison,” he said.

Walker is expected to sign the 2013-15 budget no later than Monday, but he has the authority to veto parts of the budget.

The issue affects many towns, villages and cities, not just Portage, Tierney said.

The letter concludes this way:

“Local officials are elected to make decisions that best reflect the interests of the residents who put them in office. We believe that local elected officials shouldn’t have their hands tied by state mandates. They know how best to serve their communities, and in many cases they’re already implementing innovative ways to of serving their communities while protecting the taxpayer’s dollars.

“As you begin veto process, we hope you will take the time to talk with local elected officials to understand how this policy will negatively affect our local communities.”

Even if Walker does not veto the provision and it becomes law, Tierney said he thinks it is still a good idea for Portage to implement a stormwater utility because “it’s the right thing to do.”

Many of the structures that generate the most stormwater in need of treatment, he said, are large buildings that belong to entities that don’t pay property taxes, but which would be required to pay stormwater utility fees.

Tierney said he hopes, however, that municipalities such as Portage will be able to decide what to do regarding property tax revenues that have been supplanted by fees.

“I guess I’ll know on Monday,” he said, “whether the letter was effective or not.”

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