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FOX 11 Investigates: Excess Lambeau sales tax

FOX 11 Investigates finds out what communities are doing with the excess money from the Lambeau Field sales tax.
FOX 11 Investigates finds out what communities are doing with the excess money from the Lambeau Field sales tax.
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BROWN COUNTY (WLUK) -- The renovation of Lambeau Field was made possible by a half-percent sales tax in Brown County. Now, some of that sales tax money is being used for other government projects.

"This is the largest amount of unencumbered money that these communities have ever received," said State Rep. David Steffen, R-Howard.

Steffen is talking about the $17.4 million that was recently divided among all of the municipalities in Brown County. The money had been collected for the Lambeau Field project. But when all of the bills were paid, there were millions of dollars left over.

"They erred way too far on the side of caution and collected all this excess and all it did was open another can of worms," said Richard Parins, president of the Brown County Taxpayers Association.

Steffen came up with the plan to deal with the extra sales tax money: Send it back to local governments in Brown County to use for economic development, debt relief or property tax relief.

Late last year, Gov. Scott Walker signed the bill into law and the communities received their checks just in time for Christmas.

"They're never going to get this kind of money ever again," Steffen said.

More than four months have passed since the money was distributed. FOX 11 Investigates wanted to know what have those communities are doing with the money.

FOX 11 Investigates contacted every municipality in Brown County and found that 11 of the communities have already spent or allocated most of the money. Fourteen of the communities have not spent a dime.

Steffen told FOX 11 Investigates he is not surprised most of the communities have not spent the money yet.

"This bill didn't back up a truckload of ripe bananas for them that they had to immediately get rid of. If they want sit on that money for one year, five year, 10 years, until the right opportunity presents itself, well great, then do it," Steffen said.

The largest chunk of money went to the largest city in the county: Green Bay. It received $5.3 million dollars and has not spent it yet.

"Five million dollars is a lot of money and it's something that we want to invest," said Green Bay Mayor Jim Schmitt.

He says the city is considering at least 20 different proposals including things like sending the money directly back to property tax payers or building an outdoor events complex and baseball stadium. The city could also spend as much as $300,000 to replace lead water pipes.

"I think it's important we understand; it's one-time money," Schmitt said. "We're not going to hire another fireman and spend the money and then go okay, what are we going to do next year or the year after. This is one-time money that we need to create economic development."

Steffen says he likes the approach Green Bay is taking.

"My intent was to ensure that this money especially as it relates to economic development would be used for impactful, long-term, transformative investments," Steffen said.

But communities have options. The most common option used so far has been to pay down debt. In fact, nine of the 11 communities who have spent or allocated the money have done that.

Ashwaubenon used $500,000 to reduce the debt for the clean-up of Klipstine Park.

That decision gets a thumbs up from the Taxpayers Association.

"Debt relief provides relief for a period of time going forward because that is a little bit of a snowball," Parins said.

The other option for the money is property tax relief. That can mean many different things. In Ashwaubenon, it meant spending $172,800 on a list of items that would have otherwise been part of the village budget.

"We had them slated for the budget but when it was told to us we could have the money we said these are the ones we would use to reduce our budget," said village president Mike Aubinger.

He says the village is doing exactly what it was asked to do with the money.

"How could you redistribute it any more fairly than reducing your budget or reducing your debt? Now if people don't use it that way, I think that's what people should be upset about. But those are the two things that we were told to do with it really and that's what we're doing with it," Aubinger said.

Parins says he doesn't have a problem with how any of the communities have spent the money so far. In fact, he doesn't understand why there are any parameters for spending the money.

"Just keep it simple," Parins said. "Just give the money back to the community. Let the elected officials do what they may with it. Then they're beholden only to their constituency."

Steffen says communities have the flexibility to spend the money how they see fit.

"Could a community all of the sudden decide to buy $900,000 worth of ball point pens? Yeah, I guess and they could probably get away with," Steffen said.

But he said he hopes they choose wisely.

"To use that money for perhaps reoccurring expenses, some that are administrative in nature, if I was a local official I would probably think twice about doing that. But again, it is up to the local communities to make that decision and they'll have to answer to their constituents if that was the best decision," Steffen said.

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