Rhinelander city streets are arguably in the some of the worst shape seen by motorists in recent memory. The state of disrepair is a popular topic of conversation around town. A city resident turned to the Star Journal looking for answers. In an email last week, the reader stated, “I am interested in knowing what our city’s plan is for fixing the deplorable state of our roads throughout the entire town.” Seems to be the million dollar question, but according to Rhinelander Mayor Dick Johns, the figure is closer to $2 million.
“The roads are bad because we haven’t had the funds to adequately repair them through the years,” Johns said. The city has a wish list of infrastructure projects totaling about $2 million, with Lincoln Street being the top priority.
The mayor is hoping for community support authorizing the city to levy a half-cent tax, with the funds targeted to infrastructure repairs. Known as a Premier Resort Area Tax, or PRAT, this levy increase needs to be approved by voters in the city of Rhinelander only, through a referendum on the April 7 ballot.
“The city is dealing with the same state aid issues the school district is,” according to the mayor. “The entire northern part of the state is suffering because of diminished funding of state transportation aids, and this is the only avenue available for us at this time.”
Rhinelander’s assessed property value has fallen over the past several decades. According to figures provided by the city, the much smaller town of Minocqua has assessed property values of near three times that of Rhinelander. Also, property tax revenue has decreased as the State of Wisconsin continues to provide tax relief to business and industry, causing municipalities to rely more on residential property taxes for funding.
Poor road conditions in the city of Rhinelander affect significantly more people than just city residents. City population is roughly 7,894; daytime population is nearly double, 14,393. Johns says a tax that affects everyone who spends time in the city and uses city amenities and infrastructure is the fairest way to generate the needed revenue.
“I can’t say that it will reduce property taxes in the city,” said the mayor. “But it could lessen future property tax increases.”
What is a Premier Resort Area Tax?
The PRAT is an additional sales tax placed on tourist related items, purchased, or rented at tourist related retailers in the city of Rhinelander. The funds raised can only be used for infrastructure projects such as roads, bridges, and sewer and water facilities.
The PRAT is available to municipalities with more than 40% of its equalized assessed value of the taxable property is used by tourism-related retailers. Because Rhinelander does not meet that requirement, the city will need to get a legislative exception. There are currently five municipalities in the state, including Eagle River, that have received that exemption to enact the tax. Johns says Representative Rob Swearingen offered his help.
“He told me if I can get the referendum, “Johns explained, “He will bring it up before the legislature in Madison. But I need the referendum first.”
City officials anticipate the additional tax would generate at least $400,000 annually.
A public informational meeting will take place at city hall Monday, March 16, at 6 p.m. The council and administrator Blaine Oborn will be there to answer questions about the proposed tax.