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Conservative lawyers challenge Brown County sales tax (UPDATE)

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — A conservative law firm is challenging Brown County’s new sales tax.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed a lawsuit in circuit court on Tuesday alleging that the 0.5 percent sales tax the county board imposed at the start of the new year is illegal.

The firm argues state law allows counties to enact such taxes only if the money will be used to reduce property taxes. According to the lawsuit, Brown County officials plan to use the money for various building projects and maintenance at the Resch Center, the county’s arena, rather than to reduce property taxes.

The lawsuit demands that a judge declare the tax void and unenforceable.

According to county records, the sales tax would provide $147 million for various capital projects. For instance, $60 million would go toward roads, infrastructure and facilities projects. Other projects to receive money include work related to the county jail and mental-health centers; libraries; museums; medical examiner’s office; county parks and fairgrounds; and a Science, Technology and Math research center.

Jeff Flynt, Brown County deputy executive, said in an email that local officials had various reasons for seeking to raise money with a local sales tax rather than pursuing other options, such as adopting a wheel tax. Wheel taxes, essentially local vehicle-registration fees, can be put only toward specific types of work – namely, road and transportation projects.

“Counties are able to institute the 0.5 (percent) sales tax to reduce the amount of the county wide property tax levy or to defray the cost of any item that can be funded by a county-wide property tax,” Flynt said. “That includes all of the projects listed … which the County would normally bond for. Funds from a wheel tax in Wisconsin may only be used for transportation purposes, thus would not allow us to address these infrastructure needs.”

Alex Zank of The Daily Reporter contributed to this story

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