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Counties less able to function under levy limits

Counties less able to function under levy limits Counties less able to function under levy limits

Something has to give.

That’s the take from Dale Knapp, a state and local government expert for Forward Analytics, Madison, who spoke about levy limits to northcentral Wisconsin county supervisors on Monday at the Central Wisconsin Airport.

Knapp, formerly an analyst with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said levy limits on counties, approved by Gov. Jim Doyle in the 2005-07 budget, have in recent years allowed county spending to inch up at the rate of barely one percent each year, forcing supervisors to work around the law by borrowing (and paying interest) for items, such as computers and highways, previously financed by property taxes.

Knapp said Madison politicians imposed the levy restraints to lower Wisconsin’s overall tax ranking and they’ve been successful. The state used to be listed within the “top 10” taxed states. Now, Wisconsin ranks, Knapp said, either eighteenth or nineteenth in the United States.

Knapp said the levy limits allow counties to spend more if they have new construction within their borders. That works fine for high growth counties such as Dane, Eau Claire and Monroe, he said, but not for northern tier Wisconsin counties, many which reported an average of less than 1 percent growth between 2013-19. Knapp said county levy limits used to allow all counties to increase their levies by at least two percent a year, but that provision was struck from the law in 2011.

Supervisors said the levy limits force counties to make unwise choices. Some counties, they said, get around the limits by financing their highway department by borrowing money each year. This means taxpayers wind up paying for the department’s expenses, including paving roads, but also paying interest on all of that spending.

Wisconsin Counties Association director of government affairs Kyle Christianson said this strategy may be costly now but could turn disastrous should interest rates increase.

“Think of what will happen should you pay 8 percent interest to buy a squad car,” he said.

Knapp said he believes it’s only a matter of time for the state legislature to back off on county levy limits.