Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Back from up North

Naturally, the day we left Vilas County is the day the clouds started clearing and the temps started to climb above 60, but it's still great to get away for a few days and see some family along with the scenery. Here are a few thoughts.

1. The bad weather probably was a boon to the local businesses on Monday and Tuesday, because people weren't in the mood for outdoor activities. For example, we had to wait 45 minutes for breakfast on Monday at the Wolf Pack Cafe in Saint Germain (I highly recommend it if you're in the area), but today we were able to come right in and get a table. Same held on Tuesday when we were in Minocqua, as the line outside of Paul Bunyan's was nearly out the door by 9:15 am, and Dan's Minocqua Fudge was also packed later that afternoon. The weather may have kept a handful of people from coming up on those days, but I bet that economic loss was more than offset by the captive visitors who headed to the shops.

2. And this area could use the economic help, as they've had a slow start when it comes to the real estate market in 2014. Recently-released numbers from the Wisconsin Realtors Association shows that this area lagged behind the 2013 numbers for Springtime when it comes to home sales. Especially Vilas County.

Home sales, 2nd Quarter 2014 vs. 2013
Oneida County, Q2 2013- 173 sales
Oneida County Q2 2014- 154 sales (-11.0%)

Vilas County Q2 2013- 125 sales
Vilas County Q2 2014- 107 sales (-14.4%)

Oneida County, 1st Half 2014 -3.5% vs 1st Half 2014
Vilas County, 1st Half 2014 -25.1% vs 1st Half 2014

And given the fact that these counties are looking at huge property tax increases because many of the area's school districts are facing significant cuts in state aid for the next year (Northland Pines, Lakeland and Rhinelander are all being cut more than 15%), I have a hard time believing the real estate market will snap back there in the near future.

3. Which makes me think that the Towns of Minocqua and Saint Germain may be good candidates to join other tourist-related Wisconsin communities that can levy a premier resort tax. This is an extra sales tax that can be put onto products sold in these communities, and the Vilas County City of Eagle River has already put a 0.5% premier resort tax in place to transfer some of the tax burden from the local property tax owners onto the tourists. From a quick observation of the area, it would seem that both Minocqua and Saint Germain (and perhaps even the Town of Woodruff) could qualify.
Which municipalities may adopt the premier resort area tax?

A sponsoring municipality or other political subdivision that has at least 40% of its equalized assessed property values used by tourism-related retailers (see the business codes listed in Question 3) may enact an ordinance which puts this tax into effect.
Exception: The cities of Bayfield and Eagle River and the villages of Ephraim, Sister Bay, and Stockholm may, by ordinance, impose the 0.5% premier resort area tax even if less than 40% of the equalized assessed value of the taxable property within those cities or villages is used by tourism-related retailers.
Lake Delton and Wisconsin Dells (the original communities that levied this extra sales tax in 1998) just increased their tax from 1.0% to 1.25% at the start of this month, and the Pepin County village of Stockholm will become the 5th Wisconsin community that will add the premier resort tax on October 1. Given the increased cuts to local schools and government in the age of Fitzwalkerstan, local taxes and fees have become a more common solution to solve the budget issues that result, and with a slow state economy not allowing for the tax base to grow, expect this issue to come up in many places this Fall as communities and districts try to keep their property tax rates from going through the roof for 2015.

So now I'm back in the Mad City and getting back to the world of work tomorrow. But it's always illuminating to take the 4-hour trip North, reduce my scanning of the sources such as the Wheeler Report and Wisconsin newspapers and documents, and see what life looks like outside of the big town. Given the headlines from the last couple of days, it sure appears that a lot of issues are in the process of blowing up in the coming days and weeks that I have to read up on.

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