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Wisconsin Dells will use COVID-19 funds to replace 23% loss of premier resort tax money

Wisconsin Dells will use all of its COVID-19 federal stimulus money to help replace a nearly 23% loss in premier resort tax revenue the city experienced last year when tourism grinded to a halt due to the pandemic’s restrictions and safer-at-home orders.

City officials also approved using $40,000 of premier resort tax money to refund the city’s façade improvement grant, a matching grant program that helps businesses make exterior improvements and install signage.

The common council unanimously approved to allocate the dollars at its Sept. 20 meeting. Alderperson Jesse DeFosse was absent. The allocation was also unanimously approved by the finance committee meeting held prior to the common council meeting the same evening. The conversations continued from the finance committee’s August meeting, where members discussed but did not reach a decision on how to use the funds.

The city received its first allocation of $156,584.16. The city’s total American Rescue Plan allocation of $313,168 will be split over a two year period, with the other half expected in 2022.

Premier resort tax is the extra 1.25% added onto state sales tax in the Wisconsin Dells area. According to Administrative Coordinator/Finance Director Karen Terry, Wisconsin Dells has received over $1.5 million in premier resort tax for 2021 so far. The final premier resort tax payment and total distribution amount for 2021 will not be known until Nov. 15.

During discussion, finance committee members agreed it was best to also put some of the funds into the façade improvement grant program to give back to the local businesses and help improve downtown Dells.

“I think it’s a great program too, the downtown is starting to look really good,” said Mike Freel, who sits on both the finance committee and common council. “The more we can help the downtown the better.”

Construction crews wrap up work on Jones Road in Wisconsin Dells March 30. The next phase of the project on Trout Road is scheduled to begin the week of April 5.

Resident Jim Morris, who owns VR Universe at 321 Broadway, said the businesses along Broadway would like to see the allocation of the grant program used toward smaller projects across multiple businesses rather than one big business and risk running out of money for other businesses. He said businesses have asked for funds from the façade program in previous years but was told there wasn’t any money in the fund. As of Sept. 21, the city’s website said all funds have been utilized for the grant.

Wojnicz said the reason the façade money account was depleted was because funds were set aside to build infrastructure for the new high school on Brew Farm Road. With the high school now open and businesses in the midst of recovering from last year’s COVID-19 restrictions, Wojnicz said it was time to replace the funds.

“We know we need to get this fund filled back up,” he said.

Terry said putting money towards the program shows support for the local businesses.

“A reason for a lot of this funding is to start helping some of these small business owners and I think this is a great way for our community to show that we are supporting our small businesses on our Main Street downtown,” Terry said.

Follow Erica Dynes on Twitter @EDynes_CapNews or contact her at 608-393-5346.

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