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Stockholm looking to enact special tourism tax

STOCKHOLM -- The livelihood of most of the businesses in Stockholm depends on the thousands of tourists who annually visit the village on the Mississippi River.

Now Stockholm wants to tax tourists to support the community's infrastructure.

Increasing the sales tax from 5.5 to 6 cents would raise revenue and defray some of the expense the village's property owners bear when tourists descend during summer weekends, local spokesmen told the Senate Tourism Committee on Thursday.

"We have as many as 15 festivals a year," said Kathleen Burk, owner of the River Road Inn. "We get inundated ... and have to shuttle in people" from remote parking lots.

With a population of only 97 this Pepin County village doesn't have municipal sewer or water and doesn't impose a room tax. The Stockholm Merchants Association picks up the tab for the portable toilets and other expenses associated with tourism.

The tax would raise only an estimated $3,000 annually, but that "would help tremendously" since the village's property tax revenue most years is only $18,000, said Pat Ament, who serves on the village's finance committee.

"We're considering (imposing) the room rate, too," she said.

Village President Wallace Zick Jr. said Stockholm probably wouldn't exist without tourists, but they place a tremendous burden on the community that the property taxpayers shouldn't have to support alone.

"Every dollar we can get to pay for street sweeping, traffic control, or to repair sidewalks is a dollar we don't have to ask property owners to pay for," Zick said in a telephone interview.

Earlier this year, the merchants association asked State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, to help get Stockholm designated as a premier resort area. That designation allows the village to increase its sales tax.

If passed, Vinehout's bill would waive the requirement that 40 percent of Stockholm's tax base be tourism-related.

The Wisconsin Legislature previously waived the 40 percent requirement for Eagle River, Bayfield and other tourist-dependent municipalities. Stockholm should certainly qualify, too, Vinehout believes.

"Stockholm's beauty is something that attracts many people," she said. "It's just difficult to support the infrastructure."

Increasing the sales tax by half a cent probably wouldn't be noticed by most of Stockholm's visitors, Ament said, since they come from the Twin Cities, where much higher sales and room tax rates are charged.

If enacted by the Legislature, the sales tax would still be subject to approval by the residents, Vinehout said.

Stockholm residents feel strongly about the sales tax increase, said Steve Grams, co-owner of Abode Furnishings, in a telephone interview. Instead, the only discouraging words have been whether the Legislature will pass it this month.

The committee took no action on the bill Thursday. The Legislature's floor session is scheduled to end later this month.