In case there are any doubts, the La Crosse County Board plans to make it official that it will use the proceeds of a new sales tax just for road work and will share 25 percent of the tax money with the county’s municipalities.

The board’s Executive Committee unanimously approved a resolution on the matter Wednesday, putting to rest any question that the proposed premier resort area tax could be used for anything other than road work or that the county wouldn’t follow through on sharing the money.

Some have questioned whether the wording of the April 4 advisory referendum on the premier resort area tax made it clear enough that proceeds of the tax, estimated at $6.6 million annually, would be used only for road work.

The resolution also affirms the county’s intention to share 25 percent of the tax proceeds — about $1.6 million — with the county’s 18 municipalities. The method for dividing the funds remains to be worked out, but discussions so far indicate it might be based on a combination of road miles, road condition and population.

The premier resort area tax would add a 0.5 percent sales tax on taxable items sold at retailers designated by the state Revenue Department as “tourism” related. The department lists broad categories of establishments at which the tax would be charged, but there are gray areas. Each business determines its own Standard Industry Code based on where most of its revenue comes from.

The state revenue department has indicated about half of the retailers in La Crosse County would charge the tax.

If the April 4 advisory referendum passes, the county will ask the Legislature to approve allowing the county to charge the premier resort area tax. La Crosse County is the first county to seek the tax, and if the Legislature approves, the county would then have to seek voter approval in another referendum.

The executive committee also approved a resolution, at the urging of the Wisconsin Towns Association, urging the governor and Legislature to support funding in the 2017-19 budget to expand access to high-speed broadband access for rural residents.

And at the urging of the Wisconsin Counties Association, the committee approved a resolution that urges the governor and Legislature to close a commercial property assessment loophole that has shifted more of the burden of property taxes off big businesses and onto smaller retailers and homeowners.

According to the resolution, some national retail chains have launched “a carefully orchestrated wave of hundreds of lawsuits in Wisconsin” challenging their property assessments based on what is known as the “Dark Store Theory.”

Courts have been siding with the big retailers in these cases, in which the retailers argue that their property assessment should be derived by comparing their buildings to “sales of vacant stores in abandoned locations for a different market segment.”

When they win these cases, their property tax bills are drastically reduced, with other property taxpayers picking up the difference.

The La Crosse County Board will consider these resolutions at its monthly meeting on March 16.

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Randy Erickson covers arts and entertainment and county government for the La Crosse Tribune. Contact him at 608-791-8219 or randy.erickson@lee.net.

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