Saturday, July 1, 2017

Halfway through the year, how do local sales taxes look?

With the first 6 months of the year now in the books, I wanted to see where things might be looking on the local government front, and particularly local sales taxes. In Wisconsin, the local government fiscal year matches the calendar year, and this is the time when local governments are putting together their budgets for 2018. If there’s an unexpected “pop” in sales tax revenues, this could allow those counties to carry over some extra money that can be used for additional services, or to take pressure off of the property tax levy. Likewise, coming up short on sales taxes often means service cuts and/or higher property taxes to make up the difference.

All but 7 counties in Wisconsin now have a local sales tax for their government’s operations, as Sheboygan and Kewaunee counties just added one this year, and the Brown County Board overwhelmingly approved of one in May, after the local Packer Stadium tax was ended last year. ANd if you look at the information from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, you will see that county sales taxes are up 2.1% for the first half of the year among counties that had a sales tax in both 2016 and 2017.

But the year-over-year change varies widely among the state’s largest counties with a sales tax (note that Outagamie, Brown and Waukesha Counties don’t have one). Like many other statistics, Madison-based Dane County is doing better than the rest of the state, with sales taxes up more than twice the state’s rate, and Kenosha County is also showing a decent increase. On the flip side, Milwaukee County sales taxes are barely up, Rock County is below the state average, and the La Crosse and Wausau areas are actually seeing declines so far in 2017.

Top income from local sales tax + 1-yr change Jan-Jun 2017
Milwaukee Co. $35,917,905 (+1.37%)
Dane County $27,107,045 (+4.49%)
Kenosha County $6,672,937 (+3.81%)
Rock County $6,454,383 (+1.03%)
Marathon Co. $5,716,329 (-3.55%)
La Crosse Co. $5,700,271 (-0.54%)

When you look at the big gainers so far, it seems heavily concentrated in small-population counties, so one big month (or distribution that’s delayed into the next month) can skew these rates higher. But if these growth rates continue, it obviously would help these areas greatly.

Top counties for increased local sales taxes, Jan- Jun 2017
Iron County +27.47%
Wood County +18.43%
Columbia Co. +17.98%
Lafayette Co. +14.12%
Dodge County +14.00%
Burnett Co. +10.46%
Bayfield Co. +10.45%
Ashland Co. +9.52%

The other word of caution with these numbers is that they reflect is the “off-peak” tourism season in much of Wisconsin, since there is a two-month gap in distributions, so these months reflect October 2016 through April 2017. The next 6 months of sales tax revenues will likely be larger, and these rates of change could be drastically at the end of the year.

By comparison, here are some counties that have had the largest drops in sales tax revenues, and places that could be facing some tough choices in the next few months if these numbers don’t turn around. Marathon County makes this list as well.

Top counties for decreased local sales taxes, Jan-Jun 2017
Forest County -12.20%
Marinette Co. -8.04%
Rusk County -5.76%
Oneida County -5.72%
Washburn Co. -4.52%
Portage Co. -3.91%
Marathon Co. -3.55%
Door County -3.42%

Those drops in Oneida and Door Counties should be especially concerning to officials there, as those were 2 of the top 3 counties for sales taxes per capita in Wisconsin in 2015, showcasing the importance of tourist dollars to their economies (Dells-related Sauk County is number 1). And while Portage County and Marathon County are on the lower end of this list, they are the largest population centers in Central Wisconsin, and the decline there totals nearly $120,000 in Portage County, and over $210,000 in Marathon. If that trend continues, that’s a decent amount of money that has to be made up, with no help from the state forthcoming.

With the Fourth of July coming up, these next 2 weekends will be critical for those tourist-related areas especially, as the sales information and taxes they’ll get in September will help to form the basis for where their 2018 budgets spring off of. If you want to be supportive of certain areas of the state when you’re deciding what to do with your Independence Day spending (or deviously want to avoid others), let me bring back the friendly state red-and-blue map, to help you figure out where you might want to go around Independence Day.

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