Sauk County sees record high sales tax, focuses on tourism and placemaking

Nicole Aimone, Editor-in-Chief

Sauk County is looking towards a historic start to 2021 with reports of record high sales and property tax revenue in just the first two months of the year.

At the May 18 regular board meeting, county Finance Director, Kerry Beghin and Administrative Coordinator Brent Miller, gave the board a first quarter financials update, which reported sales tax revenue for January and February up nearly 16% than the first two months of the previous two years.

“These last two months are the highest we’ve ever recorded for sales tax coming in,” said Miller. “Which, if you can explain that to me, I don’t know, I don’t understand it.”

In January 2021, the county reported over $613,000 in sales tax revenue, compared to the approximately $595,000 January 2020, approximately an $18,000 difference.

February 2021 brought an even higher jump with the county reporting nearly $874,000 in sales tax revenue compared to the same month in 2020 which reported approximately $679,000, an $195,000 difference.

Creating Tourism and Placemaking

Earlier this year, the board approved the rollout of a new branding and marketing campaign, which focuses on uniting the different municipalities of Sauk County, to drive tourism traffic—which creates greater tax revenue.

Sauk County Community Development Coordinator Jared Pinkus said the idea of a united branding and marketing plan developed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as he worked closely with the area Chamber of Commerce on how to better support businesses throughout all areas of the county.

“The one thing that kind of came up time after time was this idea of a need to work together,” said Pinkus. “We’re not going to compete with Wisconsin Dells, we have people driving to the Dells from all over the midwest, so it’s looking at what else we have to spread them out throughout the county.”

Typically, Sauk County is ranked just behind Milwaukee and Dane Counties for tourism revenue, but in 2020 it was ranked second in the state for economic development, according to Pinkus.

“We’ve actually done pretty well compared to other counties,” said Pinkus. “Just like every other county we lost a chunk of revenue during COVID, but the way our health department, county board and local leaders handled it, we actually fared a lot better than other counties. We’re ready to keep building off this success.”

While creating tourism traction is a main goal for the attraction heavy county, Pinkus said the county is also aiming to capture people permanently—and the county is currently working on a major project that can make the county more attractive for permanent placemaking—expanding broadband internet access to the ruralest corners of the county.

The county has partnered with Reedsburg Utility to provide matching grant funds for broadband expansion throughout the county, with a heavy focus in the River Valley. According to Pinkus, the county and utility company have plenty of funds to make the expansions needed, a lack of labor are creating difficulties in getting fiberoptic up and running.

In the coming year, the county and it’s partners plan to rollout a large broadband expansion buildout, which will provide 3,200 homes with broadband access throughout the county.

“One thing that we need to work on better at the county level, especially in Spring Green, is the common theme through all of these conversations—the idea of being left out or second thought,” said Pinkus. “I understand how that might be, or that idea might come around, that’s something we need to work on. You know, broadband and the airport, those are Spring Green or River Valley issues, we’re not working on those things in other communities, but it’s something we need to get better at in the county.”

Other Financials

Begin reported the County is also head of schedule for collected property tax payments, compared to their average collections in previous years. As of April of this year, the county is looking at nearly $31.2 million in uncollected property tax payments, compared to the average $31.5 million left uncollected at the same time in previous years.

The county is also ahead in collecting its delinquent tax payments as well, with 38% of outstanding, delinquent taxes collected, Begin said typically that number in May is about 22% collected.

“We’re ready to get into budget season,” said Begin.