Chamber of commerce sues city of Antigo over tourism tax dispute

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ANTIGO, Wis. (WSAW) -- The Langlade County/Antigo Chamber of Commerce is suing the city of Antigo and Room Tax Commission, alleging that the city is violating room tax laws.

Antigo City Hall on Dec. 4, 2019 (WSAW Photo)

The allegations stem from legal language stipulating that the city must turn over at least 70% of room tax dollars—a tourism tax applied to overnight stays in hotel rooms—to a “legal tourism entity”. According to revenue records, the city turned over just less than a third of room tax revenue to the Chamber in 2018, while sending other portions of the revenue to other organizations like the Langlade County Economic Development Corp. The lawsuit alleges that the entire 70% should be sent to the Chamber, as they believe they are the only entity qualified as a legal tourism entity to distribute the revenue.

“It’s not actually whether these other places would qualify or not. In the law it says that that balance has to go to a tourism entity, and from there it can be dispersed. So it’s kind of a technicality,” Drew Lundt noted, the President of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors.

Antigo city mayor Bill Brandt said the city has never designated an official tourism entity, and that one of the main issues for the city in not contracting with the Chamber is that the Chamber doesn’t spend enough dollars in efforts that promote transient stays. “They don’t generate overnight stays,” Brandt noted, saying that was a key factor in determining where to send room tax dollars for spending.

“That has never been brought up until this year,” Lundt said. “We have acknowledged their concerns and even made some changes on our own.”

Earlier this year, the Room Tax Commission voted to contract with the LCEDC as an official tourism entity, a decision Brandt says comes from the belief that the LCEDC does a better job with their tourism efforts. The lawsuit alleges that this decision is not allowed under law.

In a denial letter returned to the plaintiff, the city denied the Chamber’s claims and stated their intentions to continue seeking proposals for other entities to act as Antigo’s tourism entity.

The room tax ordinance has been in effect for Antigo since 1999. Last year, the city generated $128,844 in room tax revenue. The city has been annually setting aside a portion to invest in efforts to build a Welcome Center, which they hope to locate at the Langlade County Historical Society, Brandt said. Currently, $265,000 is set aside for that project.

The lawsuit is currently waiting on a judge to set a date for an injunction hearing.