Washington County To Hold Hearing on New Tax

From the Washington County Insider.

July 6, 2019 – Washington County, WI – The Washington County Planning and Parks Department will be holding a public hearing on Thursday, July 25, 2019 at 7:35 a.m. regarding the creation of an Annual Special Charge Tax Assessment for Washington County properties served by Private Onsite Wastewater Treatment Systems (POWTS) for the purposes of tracking and maintenance.

The POWTS Maintenence Program Special Charge report, which can be found here, states:

The number of parcels serviced by POWTS in Washington County continues to change and we continue to
refine the inventory of systems. As of June 13, 2019, staff estimates 20,313 parcels are served by POWTS
throughout the County. Staff is recommending program costs be assessed at $11 per parcel annually served
by POWTS or $11 per system, whichever is greater based on the above cost estimate. Approximately 20,209
parcels (99.5%) would be assessed an $11 fee ($11 x 20,209= $222,299). The remaining roughly 103 parcels
would be assessed between $22-$66 depending on the number of POWTS systems on the property as follows:
 4 parcels at $66 annually
 6 parcels at $55 annually
 4 parcels at $44 annually
 10 parcels at $33 annually
 80 parcels at $22 annually

The public hearing will be held on Thursday, July 25, 2019, at 7:35 a.m. in Room 1014 of the Herbert J Tennies Government Center, 423 E. Washington Street, West Bend.

I should mention that this impacts me since I have a septic system. Here’s the thing… I don’t mind fees. They are a rational way for the government to raise revenue instead of taxes. In general, I think that fees are fine when it is an optional government service. Toll roads, car registration fees, park fees, etc… fine. The use of fees get a bit more dubious when they are mandatory. In that case, the distinction between a fee and a tax ceases to exist. In this case, most people with septic systems do not have access to another choice, so the fee is simply a tax to them.

In this case, two things rub me the wrong way. First, the cost. Here’s how this works… I have to have my septic system serviced and inspected once every three years. The county keeps track of it and sends me a post card reminder when it is due. I pay a private contractor to do the work and then they send notice to the county to say that it’s done. The entire process can be run by an intern with a spreadsheet. Why does it cost over $200k per year? That seems extraordinary. I’d love to hear the reason.

The second thing that rubs me wrong is just that it is a change to support more spending. This system has been in place for nearly twenty years and now the county wants to shift it off the general tax and into a fee. If it had been a fee since the beginning, then fine. But since the general taxpayers have been paying for it all along, it means that the county wants to shift this cost to the septic system owners and presumably free up they general tax revenue for some other spending. I don’t see them offering to lower the county property tax or sales tax y $200k+, so it is just implementing a new fee on one hand to support more spending from the other hand.

$11 per year isn’t going to break anyone, but it is just another nagging fee that makes the county a little more expensive and a little more annoying to live in – especially for rural citizens.