Waukesha joins municipalities opposing ‘room tax’ changes

By Matt Masterson - Freeman Staff

June 17, 2015

WAUKESHA — A resolution opposing recently adopted changes to the state’s “room tax” law was approved Tuesday by the Waukesha Common Council, but some supervisors want to make sure the city is paying its fair share for “destination marketing” in the area.

The council voted 13-0 in favor of the resolution, which “opposes any changes to the room tax law being included in the state budget” and asks both the state Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker to pull the new changes.

The new language was approved by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee last month. Mayors from Waukesha, Brookfield and other local municipalities have spoken out against the changes, which require municipal money to go toward tourism promotion and development.

Waukesha Mayor Shawn Reilly said the changes will cost the city approximately $50,000 per year from its general fund and will also not allow the city to increase that fund to offset the difference.

Similar legislation was introduced in the previous two legislative sessions, but was unsuccessful. Because the changes were attached by the JFC, there was no public comment held on the matter.

Alds. Vance Skinner and Kathleen Cummings both mentioned how room tax dollars were always meant to support tourism, but have been used instead to supplement the city’s budget.

Tammy Tritz, executive director of the Waukesha Pewaukee Convention and Visitor Bureau, acknowledged at Tuesday’s meeting the new language is a difficult situation for the council to handle, but said room tax money can still be spent in a couple of ways.

“First, directly to a tourism entity, or second — which is allowed right now — tourism commission which could be appointed by a municipal leader,” she said. “So in this case, Mayor Reilly has the ability to appoint terms as well as specific folks to come to the commission to determine how those dollars were going to be spent.”

Tritz said room tax dollars go toward destination marketing, which includes all aspects of a community, not just hotel advertising.

“I know this is a difficult situation for all of you to address, but I do believe working together we can continue to build revenues that come into our community, we can continue to build jobs in our community,” she said While some opposed the language itself, others were upset that Waukesha has not had a say in a matter that directly affects the city.

Skinner and Ald. Joe Pieper both took issue with the way state politicians have legislated how things are done in local municipalities.

“I continue to be troubled by folks in Madison that make rules and pass the laws that have a negative impact on a municipality such as ours without much consultation,” Pieper said. “I think there are more constructive ways for the Legislature to work with municipalities around matters like this.”

Email: mmasterson@conleynet.com