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Sales tax receipts top $5.3 million

After a year of volatility, St. Croix County's sales tax revenues for 2006 were close to the budgeted amount, reported Finance Director Michelle Pietrick last week.

The county has received a total of $5,343,640 -- $82,173 more than projected -- for purchases made in 2006.

The slight increase is a welcome relief for county finance officers, who are watching the monthly numbers closely as the Wisconsin Revenue Department struggles to find a computer system to accurately allocate sales tax revenue to local governments.

In 2003, 57 counties were overpaid while others were shorted. In July 2005, the DOR announced that it had been sending the wrong sales tax amounts to 58 counties, including St. Croix. In December 2005, the Legislative Audit Bureau reported the DOR still owed money to 33 counties, including St. Croix.

The county relies on UW-Extension estimates to predict the sales tax revenue it should receive in a given year, and those estimates are generally reliable, said Pietrick.

St. Croix expected to receive $5.26 million in sales taxes on purchases made in the county in 2006. The extra $82,000 is only a slight variation from that.

Still, said Pietrick, the county got more sales tax money in 2005 than it did for 2006 because a "catch-up" payment inflated the 2005 numbers. St. Croix's sales tax revenues for 2005 totaled $5.79 million.

Billboard attorney

Also last week, the Finance Committee directed the Planning and Zoning Committee to use the services of the county's corporation counsel rather than hiring an outside lawyer to help write new sign ordinances.

The Planning and Zoning Committee and staff had asked for outside legal counsel "because of the specialized legal issues involved and the tight timeframe to develop ordinance revisions..."

Planning and Zoning Committee Chairman Wallace Habhegger said his committee is asking for specialized help "to make sure the new ordinance is designed correctly so there are no constitutional issues."

"It's not that complicated, in my opinion," responded Corporation Counsel Greg Timmerman. He said sample ordinances are available on the Internet, and he's comfortable advising the committee.

The Finance Committee voted to use Timmerman's services but to allow him to seek outside help if he feels he needs it.

Energy study

In other business, the committee authorized the Building Services Department to develop a request for proposals for an energy conservation feasibility study of the Government Center.

David Best of the building department said the intent is to hire a consultant to evaluate the chiller/heating and air handling systems and look at alternate methods of heating and cooling the building.

Best said he doesn't know if there is a potential for saving money, but the study would determine that.

He said a similar study was done at the Health Center in 1991, and over the next eight years, the county incorporated about 90% of the study recommendations.

Focus on Energy, a quasi-state program, will provide half the cost -- up to $7,500 -- of the feasibility study.