By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — By the actions of the Dunn County Board’s executive committee, it appears that committee members are not concerned about property owners paying taxes levied by officials they did not elect.
Terry Nichols, Town of Colfax resident, brought the issue to the executive committee’s February 7 meeting with the idea that a question about technical school funding should be placed on the ballot as a non-binding referendum question.
The February 6 meeting was, in fact, either the fourth or fifth time that Nichols has approached the county board or one of its committees.
The executive committee acts as the legislative committee for the county board. The committee would have to authorize a resolution for a referendum question that would then be brought to the county board for consideration.
Nichols has been trying to educate the public about technical school funding for many years.
How it works
A direct tax for Wisconsin’s technical school system is levied on each property owner’s property tax bill.
The problem is that the tax is levied by a board of directors that is appointed and not elected, resulting in taxation without elected representation.
If taxpayers do not like the way a local school board spends their tax money, taxpayers can vote in new school board members.
If taxpayers do not like the way the county board spends their tax money, taxpayers can vote in new county board members.
If taxpayers do not like the way a town board spends their tax money, taxpayers can vote in new town board members.
If taxpayers do not like the way that the technical school system spends their tax money — too bad — because the technical school board of directors is not elected, and taxpayers have no control over who serves on the board of directors.
Nichols says the solution is to change the way technical schools are funded, and that they should be funded in the same way the university system is funded and not by a direct tax on property owners.
Attending a technical college is the choice of the individual, in the same way that attending a university in the university system is the choice of the individual, Nichols says.
Another solution would be to elect the technical school board of directors, just as taxpayers elect school boards, town boards, county boards, village boards and state senators and representatives.
The amount of technical school funding levied on taxpayers by an unelected board of directors is not small potatoes.
Over the last four years, taxpayers in the Town of Colfax, for example, have paid over $500,000 toward technical school funding.
For Town of Colfax residents, that’s a half a million dollars levied by members of a board who never have to worry whether Town of Colfax residents are going to re-elect them to their positions.
Dunn County has 22 townships. Depending upon the property values in each township, some have paid more than $500,000 and some have paid less. If each township paid $500,000 over four years, that would amount to $11 million from Dunn County townships alone for the technical school system, never mind the villages of Colfax, Elk Mound, Boyceville, Downing, Knapp and the City of Menomonie.
And every penny of it levied by officials who are appointed and not elected.
The amount paid by Dunn County taxpayers for the tech school system would be between $2.75 million and $3 million each year.
For purposes of comparison, after a referendum question on funding for the Dunn County Health Care Center, the Dunn County Board levied $500,000 per year for five years for operational costs for the health care center.
Dunn County has an annual budget of about $70 million.
At the February 7 Dunn County Executive Committee meeting, committee members said nothing about the issue of taxpayers paying a tax levied by officials they did not elect.
Steve Rasmussen of Boyceville, chair of the Dunn County Board, is chair of the executive committee.
Mary Solberg, county board supervisor from Menomonie, did, however, wonder about the cost for a non-binding referendum election.
Scott Cox, Dunn County Corporation Counsel, said he thought the question could be added to the same ballot as a regular election, such as the April 2 spring election, but that the committee should check with the county clerk.
Cox also noted, however, that the timing for approvals and publication might not work out for the question to be on the April ballot, although the question could be added to the next election after that.
Several years ago, when the county board considered Nichols’ request for a referendum question on tech school funding, board members decided, instead, to ask the Wisconsin Counties Association to address the issue in a legislative platform, noted Gene Smith, county manager.
Nothing has been reported to the Dunn County Board about whether the Wisconsin Counties Association has even discussed the issue.
Wisconsin has 72 counties. If each of them paid $11 million over the past four years, that amounts to $792 million toward technical school funding levied by officials who are appointed and not elected.
The executive committee could choose from three options, Smith said.
The committee could decide not to pursue the issue; the committee could decide to pursue the issue and obtain additional information; the committee could work on drafting a referendum question, take the question to the county board and ask that it be put on the spring election ballot if the timing would work out, Smith explained.
Bob Walter, county board supervisor from Menomonie, said it was none of the county’s business how the state raised money to fund the technical school system.
Walter offered a motion to not place the question of technical school funding on the ballot as a referendum question, and the executive committee unanimously approved the motion.
In a brief conversation after leaving the meeting, Nichols said he was surprised that county board members who are elected to their positions and have the authority to levy property taxes would be so unconcerned about their constituents paying taxes levied by officials who are appointed and not elected.
Nichols also said he wondered if the executive committee members really understood the issue.
“Taxation without representation” was the primary grievance of the original thirteen British colonies, one of the major causes of the Revolutionary War, and the reason that we are now citizens of the United States instead of British subjects.