TOWN OF BUCHANAN — The Wisconsin Supreme Court announced will take up an appeal by the town of Buchanan of a case that struck down the town’s transportation.
The conservative law firm Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, or WILL, sued the town last year and claiming that the fee was “an unlawful tax” that violates state levy limits and the uniformity clause of the Wisconsin Constitution.
The case will now bypass the court of appeals and will be heard directly by the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Outagamie County Circuit Court Judge Mark McGinnis in June struck down the Town of Buchanan’s transportation utility fee, holding that the fee violates strict levy limits imposed on counties and municipalities in state law.
Town of Buchanan voters adopted the 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.”
WILL argued this fee – despite its name – is really an unlawful tax.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, Buchanan was at its levy limit of $2.4 million last year. They used this additional tax to levy $850,000 more from taxpayers — homeowners pay $315 annually and businesses and other properties pay between $200 and $8,000.
The fee is increasingly being considered by communities across the state to address growing shortfalls in road maintenance that can’t be covered by general property taxes.
Neenah currently imposes the fee while Appleton has considered it.
Earlier this year, Assembly Republicans introduced bills that would punish local governments that enact transportation user fees by forcing them to lower the amount they can collect from property taxes by however much they raise from the new transportation fees.