When longtime Fitchburg resident Anne Scott went to renew her vehicle registration in March she got sticker shock – charged $68 more than last year.
“I was surprised,” Scott said. “That was really expensive.”
Scott, at the time an alder representing District 1, looked closer at her license plate renewal registration fee and noticed she had been charged $40 for a Madison wheel tax even though she lives in Fitchburg. The increase also included a $28 fee for a Dane County wheel tax.
Infuriated, she brought it up at the next Common Council meeting to warn other residents to watch their bills.
Eventually, she got the $40 deducted by calling the state Department of Transportation, she told the Star in April. She offered to send a copy of her property tax bill but was told that wouldn’t be necessary.
“I was not going to pay it,” she said.
Ken Hannes, another Fitchburg resident, told the Star he was also charged $40 for the Madison tax, and he also fixed the problem by calling the DOT.
“They rescinded my $40 charge, and noted in my account that my vehicles are not in Madison for future renewals,” he wrote in an email.
The Madison Common Council approved the $40 wheel tax Oct. 29, 2019, and it became effective Feb. 1. It’s among 28 municipalities in the state that have enacted a wheel tax fee, and it’s the largest. In addition, there are 12 counties that charge a wheel tax, with Dane County at $28 and Milwaukee County the highest, at $30.
The DOT collects wheel tax fees for counties, cities, towns and villages. It keeps 17 cents of each application and then mails the rest to the proper municipality.
Fitchburg Mayor Aaron Richardson said the City of Fitchburg has no plan to implement a wheel tax, and he advised anyone who gets the Madison wheel tax when they renew their vehicle registration to contact the DOT.
As for why it’s happening, Dorothy Krause, a five-term Fitchburg alder representing District 1, has a theory.
She said since ZIP codes were granted before the Town of Fitchburg became a city in 1983, many residents have Madison-area ZIP codes and that may be why they are being charged the wheel tax.
“We are having the same problem with the Air BnB’s (bed and breakfast businesses),” Krause said. “If the Air BnB’s host an event in Fitchburg and people from Fitchburg stay there, they are being charged a 10% room tax that they are having to send it to Madison.”
That fits with Scott’s experience.
Scott has lived in her same Fitchburg home for 36 years. When she first moved there, she told the Star, she used Madison as her address in her vehicle registration, as Fitchburg doesn’t have a Post Office.
So when she, like other Fitchburg residents renewed their vehicle registration, the address was pulled from her previous vehicle registration.
Hannes suggested Fitchburg residents watch carefully when they renew their registration.
“If they have a large increase in their renewal, this could be the reason,” he wrote.