County Board approves three referendums on November ballot
By Joe Bachman
Referendums on dark store loopholes, medicinal marijuana, and the Portage County Health Care Center will be placed on the ballots for November elections.
STEVENS POINT — Portage County residents will have three referendums to vote on this November, as county board officials confirmed the addition of three referendums to the November elections on Thursday night.
Dark Store Loopholes
County officials moved first to create a referendum urging state legislators to close dark store loopholes, where large retailers, such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, and others, are allowed to pay less in property taxes due to an assessment of the store’s property based solely on ‘bricks and mortar’, and not the value of the business or products and inventory carried in store.
Many counties across the state have adopted similar resolutions.
According to part of the resolution:
“…Unless dark store loopholes are closed, Portage County taxpayers other than big-box stores may be obligated to pay an increased share of the local property tax levy…”
The move passed unanimously, with the exception of Medin and Raabe, who were absent from Thursday’s meeting.
Second on the agenda was the near-unanimous approval of adding a referendum that would urge state officials to allow access for those with certain medical conditions to medical marijuana. The move comes in light of the continued opiate epidemic, and contributes medical marijuana as a viable treatment option to help curb opiate and prescription drug addition in Portage County.
In early August, many residents, including veterans and farmers, spoke favorably of making it legal for marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes.
Marijuana currently stands as a Schedule I drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. However, according to two studies published by Journal of the American Medical Association, medicinal marijuana in many cases reduced the needs for patients to use opiates for pain.
Many other counties have adopted a similar measure for November elections, including Milwaukee, Marathon, Dane, Brown, La Crosse, Rock, and Sauk Counties.
District 20 representative Gussel was the only member to vote against the measure, with the exception of Medin and Raabe, who were absent.
Portage County Health Care Center
Last but certainly not least on the referendum agenda, officials moved to add a referendum regarding the funding and survival of the Portage County Health Care Center.
The referendum will ask residents if the health care center is worth increasing property taxes by approximately $1.4 million a year from 2019-2022, for a total of four years. This would result in a newly amended 5.224 percent increase over the allowable levy by the state. An amendment was made to the initial proposal which sees this increase for only four years, as opposed to five. This came after an amendment of six years was voted down. The total levy amount will be in the amount of $28,201,817.
Information was also released on how it will affect the homeowner in regards to their taxes. For a $100,000 home, it is estimated that a homeowner will pay an additional $24.48, annually, for their share of the levy increase.
Built in 1931, the aging facility has been deemed inefficient by county officials, which requires continual repairs. With this, the need for elderly and mental health care continues, leaving the board to make the ultimate decision on raising the tax levy in order to maintain costs of care.
If successful, the board will essentially have four years to figure out an alternative funding method to promise that the center will last.
As stated in the referendum, a “NO” vote will leave the future of the center uncertain.
The vote passed unanimously.