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Town of Buchanan being sued over 'transportation utility fee'

Posted at 10:15 a.m. on September 16, 2021

The Brillion News

APPLETON - A statewide taxpayers' watchdog group has filed suit in Outagamie County Circuit Court against against the Town of Buchanan after the town government adopted and implemented a transportation utility fee that the suit says violates state law and circumvents strict levy limits set by the state.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty (WILL), a conservative public interest group represented Wisconsin Property Taxpayers, Inc. (WPT), a non-partisan membership organization consisting of thousands of small business, farm, and property owners, in the lawsuit filed on September 16 in Outagamie County Circuit Court in Appleton.

{Photo: Outagamie County Justice Center]

“The ‘fee’ adopted by the Town of Buchanan is an unlawful tax intended to circumvent levy limits and uniformity requirements," said WILL Deputy Counsel Luke Berg said. "Wisconsin municipalities cannot charge a fee, or implement a tax, without statutory authorization.”

“Now more than ever, Wisconsin’s small businesses and homeowners need to invest every dollar they earn back into their businesses and families,” said John Jacobson, WPT Government & Member Relations Director. “Implementing and mislabeling an unlawful tax to circumvent levy limits and rake in even more money from those individuals who already fund our local communities is misleading and insulting.”

WILL said the Town of Buchanan adopted a “transportation utility fee” in late 2019 to generate revenue to pay for its roads. The “transportation utility fee” is charged to “all developed properties” and is used to fund “the cost of utility district highways, stormwater management, sidewalks, street lighting, traffic control” and “any other convenience or public improvement.”

The suit maintains that this fee is really an unlawful tax. Nothing in state law authorizes municipalities to charge a road-use fee; rather, road costs are financed primarily through property taxes, which are subject to strict levy limits and uniformity requirements.

"The Town of Buchanan appears to be using this fee to circumvent those limits on property taxes," a WILL statement said.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Buchanan was at its levy limit of $2.4 million last year.

The suit said the town is using the fee to raise $850,000 more from taxpayers - homeowners pay $315 annually and businesses and other properties pay between $200 and $8,000.

WILL filed a notice of claim with the Town of Buchanan in May 2021 warning the town that the transportation utility fee is an unlawful tax and must be eliminated. The town denied the notice of claim in late August.

WILL is asking the court to declare the Town of Buchanan’s “transportation utility fee” illegal and issue an injunction to prevent Buchanan from levying, enforcing, or collecting the fee.


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