By Laurel Hauser
This Tuesday, Sturgeon Bay residents will be asked to vote yes or no on a Premier Area Resort Tax (PRAT). I support the PRAT and this is why. (If you’re in favor of the PRAT, you’ll like the first part of this. If you’re opposed or undecided, please keep reading.)
Until we as a society decide that more of our collective wealth should go to the community, and while we are under state-imposed levy limits, we need to pay for the services we all use. Sturgeon Bay is fortunate that, because of where we’re located, we have the PRAT tool available to us. (Pending approval by our State legislature.)
When our Roads Committee met last year (and I call it “our” because it was made up of one citizen from each district), the members did an inspiring job of examining our current situation and assessing our options. They did their homework (literally), asked questions and came to a common recommendation. I attended the meetings and watched the process.
The PRAT tax was their first choice because it makes a lot of sense. It shares the cost for the roads with those who use them. As the hub of Door County, and as the gateway to northern Door County, our roads get more use than our 9,000+ residents give them. By enacting the PRAT, visitors help pay for the roads they use. While the PRAT will bring in an estimated $800,000 a year, only a fraction of that will come from the residents of Sturgeon Bay.
But here’s the real reason I support the PRAT. A few years ago, when I made a career change, I spent a summer and fall working for a local landscape company. I went from earning a salary at my previous job to being an hourly employee. I worked with people who put in 9-hour days, six days a week, doing hard physical labor. Most of them drove cars that barely got them to work. Which brings us to the alternative to a PRAT.
Choice#2 from the Roads Committee is a wheel tax. Many communities adopt wheel taxes, and every vehicle – whether it’s a luxury vehicle or a clunker – gets taxed the same. In order to collect the $720,000 needed to meet the Roads Committee’s recommended replacement schedule and maintenance, the wheel tax on each vehicle would need to be $56. If a family has two vehicles, that’s $112. (It’s estimated that the PRAT, in comparison, will cost a family with a modest income about $30 a year.)
In our culture, even the poorest laborer needs a car to get to work. It hurts me to think of the working poor paying a wheel tax when the alternative is to ask people who vacation here to pay .5 percent on what are largely luxury, tourist-related items.
Having said all that, are those who question the PRAT and the parameters of its use asking the right questions? Yes, they absolutely are.
If things are done with the right intentions – i.e. instituting a tax to pay for our roads and sidewalks, as the Roads Committee recommends – but no policy is put in writing, no follow-up process is identified to make sure the tax is used correctly, we’ve done half of the job.
Asking for intentions to be recorded in policy form, and accessible to the public, is wise and will carry the Roads Committee’s work forward to future councils.
Our roadways work when they free of potholes and when there are stop signs and traffic lights telling people where to go and what the rules are. The same is true of city government.
I urge people to vote yes for the PRAT so that those who use our roads pay for them. And then I’d urge people to hold their council members’ feet to the fire to do the rest of their job. Before the PRAT goes to the legislature, put the Roads Committee’s intentions (found in their final report) into a policy that’s accessible.
Alderperson, District 7, Sturgeon Bay