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State wants overdue sales tax payments from Milwaukee for weed removals

When a city government cuts excess weeds, and bills property owners for it, the state considers that a "landscaping service." And the landowner must pay a sales tax.

That was news to Milwaukee officials, which recently got a $208,000 bill from the state to pay overdue sales taxes and interest dating back four years.

Most of that amount was for docking fees and crane rentals at the Port of Milwaukee.

But $40,000 of it was for the weeds cut by city crews in response to complaints.

City officials considered it a nuisance abatement charge - and therefore, they believed it's tax exempt.

Dan Thompson of the League of Wisconsin Municipalities says he's never heard of sales taxes for weed removals.

When he was Fond du Lac's city manager in the 1980's, he said the weed removal charges were considered as fines for violating an ordinance.

But Linda Barth of the state Revenue Department says it's landscaping, and it says so in the agency's booklet on sales tax information for counties and municipalities.

It's not clear how many other Wisconsin communities might be facing overdue sales tax payments for weed removals, but Milwaukee officials were told that other cities had appealed such charges and lost.