Taxation FAQ 6

Does a city or village have the power to impose a general sales tax within its jurisdiction?

No. A city or village may only enact the types of taxes authorized by the legislature and there is no statutory authorization for cities and villages to impose a general sales tax in their community with one exception (see "premier resort area" discussion below). The most significant taxing authority for cities and villages is the property tax. However, the legislature has authorized several other important taxes or fees that may be imposed by some or all cities and villages.

In 1997, the legislature authorized municipalities capable of qualifying as "premier resort areas" to impose a 0.5 percent sales tax. Wis. Stat. sec. 77.994. A municipality, by a two-thirds vote of the members of the governing body who are present when the vote is taken, may declare itself a premier resort area by enacting an ordinance or resolution if at least 40 percent of the equalized assessed value of taxable property within the municipality is used by tourism-related retailers. Wis. Stat. sec. 66.1113(2)(a). The definition of "tourism-related retailers" lists twenty-one classifications of retail businesses including: variety stores; miscellaneous general merchandise stores; retail bakeries; gasoline service stations; eating places; drinking places; drug stores and proprietary stores; liquor stores; hotels and motels; and public golf courses. Sec. 66.1113(1)(d). Although the number of municipalities that may qualify as a "premier resort area" is not large, the revenue could be significant. However, the tax proceeds may only be used to pay for public infrastructure expenses within the premier resort area's jurisdiction. Wis. Stat sec. 66.1113(2)(d).

In contrast to the "premier resort area" tax, all cities and villages are authorized to impose a room tax of up to 8 percent on hotels, motels and other rooms or lodging furnished to the public for stays of less than one month. Wis. Stat. secs. 66.0615(1) and 77.52(2)(a)1. This tax applies to inns, motels, tourist homes, lodging houses, rooming houses, summer camps, apartment hotels, and resort lodges and cabins. The tax does not apply to campgrounds. Taxation 931. Room purchases by Wisconsin state and local governmental units, the federal government, and entities with tax-exempt certificates are also exempt from the room tax. Wis Stat. secs. 77.54(9a) and 77.55; Taxation 981.

Although very few have done so, every Wisconsin city and village is also authorized to impose an annual vehicle registration fee ("wheel tax") on most of the motor vehicles registered in Wisconsin and customarily kept in the city or village. Wis. Stat. sec. 341.35(1). The motor vehicles subject to such a fee include automobiles and motor trucks registered under 341.25(1)(c)., at a gross weight of not more than 8000 lbs. Wis. Stat. sec. 341.35(1). This fee does not apply to any vehicle that is exempt from paying a state vehicle registration fee or any vehicle registered by the state under sec. 341.26., for a fee of five (5) dollars. Wis. Stat. secs. 341.35(2)(a) and (b).

In addition to these taxes, the legislature has authorized cities and villages to impose some specific fees or charges. These include impact fees imposed on developments within the city or village and its extraterritorial platting jurisdiction to pay for the capital costs necessary to accommodate the development and special charges for current services such as snow and ice removal, repair of sidewalks or curbs and gutters, and storm water management (including construction of stormwater management facilities). See Wis. Stat. secs. 66.0617 (impact fees) and 66.0627 (special charges).