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Empower Wisconsin | June 22, 2020

MADISON  — Fresh off of passage of a disputed $1 billion Racine Unified School District referendum, talk is growing that Racine County could adopt a half-cent sales tax. 

The extra revenue the local option sales tax would bring into the county’s coffers is enticing in a time of drastically shrinking revenue,  But for a county that posted an18-percent unemployment rate for April, in the worst of the pandemic and state lockdowns, higher taxes might be a tough sell. Tougher still following the passage of a hefty school referendum approved by just 5 votes. The results are being contested in court. 

Racine County would become the 69th of Wisconsin’s 72 counties to implement a  half-percent sales tax. 

As the Racine Journal Times reported last week, some municipal leaders “don’t want to miss out” on the easy-pickings revenue enhancer that could rake north of $18 million annually into the county’s coffers. The higher tax would also add another $92 on to the average county resident’s expenses. 

Local village boards are in the discussion phase. 

“That’s a lot of money,” Caledonia Village Administrator Tom Christensen told board members last week as he laid out the potential revenue stream, according to the newspaper. 

The county wouldn’t need the taxpayers’ blessing to add the local sales tax on to the state’s 5 percent rate. County Boards have the authority to adopt the half-cent tax — that’s why so many have. 

Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave apparently isn’t sold on idea. A spokesman told the Journal Times that Delagrave is “mindful of the recent economic downturn and financial hardships that many residents are facing and has no plans to propose a county sales tax.” 

Depending on the outcome of the court challenge, property taxpayers in the Racine Unified School District could be on the hook for the next 30 years. The district would be allowed to exceed the state-imposed revenue limit over the period. 

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