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County calls for audit of sales tax collections

The St. Croix County Board voted unanimously Tuesday to suggest that Wisconsin obtain independent audits of sales tax calculations for past years.

The board also asked for verification of the reliability of the system that will be used for calculations in the future.

Last month the county received an unexpected check for $324,541 for sales tax revenue that should have been paid earlier, reported Finance Committee Chairman Ralph Swenson.

In July the Wisconsin Department of Revenue announced that it had forwarded the wrong tax amounts to 58 counties. The DOR said it had shorted 23 counties $1.3 million while overpaying 35 others $2 million.

St. Croix County got the largest check and was told to expect more, but didn't get a clear explanation of what happened.

"We got some money, and we don't know which period it applies to," said Swenson. He said county officials had already noticed that this year's sales tax receipts were down.

Swenson said the DOR hasn't yet explained when the errors occurred or if the county is getting the correct amount now.

"We're not sure at all of the quality of the data we're getting from the state," he said.

St. Croix County, along with most other Wisconsin counties, has a half-cent sales tax. The state has its own 5-cent tax.

The county taxes are collected by local businesses, paid to the state and returned to the counties with a two-month lag.

For the last few months, St. Croix officials have wondered why the county's sales tax payments have been running so low. Collections had been increasing every year, but in the first five months of 2005 St. Croix received $133,000 less than it had for the first five months of 2004.