BCTA v. Brown County

Case Name: Brown County Taxpayers Association v. Brown County

Type of Case: Sales Tax Challenge; Good Government

Court: Brown County Circuit Court

Case Number: 18-cv-1318-cv-640

Filed On: January 2, 2018; May 23, 2018

Current Status: Wisconsin Supreme Court

Wisconsin law permits counties to impose a 0.5% sales tax, but “only for the purpose of directly reducing the property tax levy.”  When a county sales tax is imposed, taxpayers should see a significant reduction in the county portion of their property taxes.

Brown County created a new sales tax to go into effect on January 1, 2018, but is not using that revenue to lower people’s property taxes.  Instead, the County is using it to pay for a slew of new projects, including museum exhibits, an expo hall, and a new research center.

On behalf of the Brown County Taxpayers Association and a local taxpayer, we sued to challenge the sales tax.  The court dismissed the case for failure to serve a notice of claim on the County before suing, despite our argument that notices aren’t necessary when seeking a temporary injunction to immediately halt illegal government activity.  We filed a new notice of claim and the case has been refiled.  

On March 24, 2020, the Circuit Court issued its decision and order upholding the validity of Brown County’s ordinance.  The Court concluded that the County had avoided a hypothetical increase in its property tax levy to pay for the new spending and that was sufficient under the statute.  We appealed the decision, and on March 3, 2021 the Court of Appeals asked the Supreme Court to review the case.  Oral argument will be scheduled for sometime in the fall.