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HomeAppleton Concerned TaxpayersIncrease the Wheel Tax or Not?

Increase the Wheel Tax or Not?

On May 20, my wife and I participated in the public speaking session of the Appleton Finance Committee meeting. Public comments were taken prior to the Committee’s discussion and vote on a resolution regarding adding $10 to the current $20 Wheel Tax imposed by the city.

I noted:

  • In 2012, Appleton paid 100% of sidewalk and roadwork out of levy funds.
  • In 2015, Appleton instituted its $20 Wheel Tax.
  • In 2017, an increase in the Wheel Tax fee was defeated by this committee 3-1.
  • By 2022, Appleton paid only 19% of sidewalk and roadwork costs. Money raised by the Wheel Tax was practically the only money paid toward sidewalk and roadwork; the rest was borrowed.

This presents a pretty good argument in support of the need to increase the Wheel Tax by $10. However, I proceeded to point out this dramatic turn-around could be attributed to Appleton’s full dive into “vitalizing College Avenue” and Capital Projects.

In 2012, the cost of debt service for Appleton’s general obligation (G.O.) debt was near 5% of city general revenues. In 2022, debt service is close to 35% of city general revenues. College Avenue and Capital Projects accounted for much of the ballooning debt, siphoning off money that previously went to support infrastructure.

State shared revenue income remained static for at least a decade, however, this year, the city benefited from an extra $1.9 million in state shared revenue. The Appleton Common Council also shifted $1.2 million from the general fund-financed budget for the Urban Forestry Service into the fee-funded Storm Water Utility, which realized an end-of-year working cash amount of $14 million, with an anticipated total of $10 million at the end of this year. The question is: where did this windfall of $3.1 million go? The city will see this increase in its general fund revenue continually going forward. Will it disappear every year?

We drew committee attention to the fiscal problems faced by all Wisconsin residents, noting that Wisconsin ranks 5th worst in property tax burden nationally. Addressing Appleton specifically, although the levy rate decreased in 2024 by 26%, the reappraisals increased home values by an average of 43%!

Did you know the added load of servicing the city’s $13.5 million G.O. debt service costs the Appleton owner of a $250,000 home an extra $434 annually over the allowed levy in property taxes?

I ended my time shining a light on the reality that young families are choosing not to live in Appleton due to high tax rates and all of the fees. Surprisingly, I’ve heard a city employee tell me they don’t live in Appleton because “It’s too expensive.”

High taxes and fees don’t affect the affluent, but when a young person wanting to buy a home and start a family, holding a job paying $60,000 a year, says “Appleton’s too expensive,” that should be a warning sign.

Brian Garrow, another Appleton resident, pointed out during the public comment session that the current Wheel Tax excluded many vehicle types, including trucks over 8,000 pounds, placing the entire burden on the homeowners. He called the Wheel Tax an unfair tax as it targets a small group of users while excluding others to their advantage.

Several alderpersons expressed frustration over not having a better solution, using the argument that it is better to pay an extra $10 rather than face a $4,000 special assessment. Other alderpersons painted that argument as a “fear tactic,” expressing that going back to special assessments has never been an option, but making hard decisions on budget issues was necessary. Committee Chair Brad Firkus listed several lesser choices, while Ald. Denise Fenton correctly stated that the extra money raised would not come close to solving the problem.

Following the discussion, the committee voted 3-2 not to recommend adding $10 to the Wheel Tax. Now the proposal will go to the entire Common Council for a June 5 discussion and vote.

I urge Appleton residents to attend the June 5 meeting (at 7:00 pm in the Council Chambers at 100 North Appleton Street) and/or contact your alderperson to express your concerns or support. Most importantly, bring ideas for other solutions to this meeting. One alderperson stated they had a constituent who felt raising the Wheel Tax by $40 or $50 would be ok. I heard no support for this kind of increase, but it certainly defined a possible horizon.

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