The state budget, Act 9, mandates a reduction in municipal cable franchise fee percentages and requires the state to compensate municipalities for the lost revenue. In order to qualify for the 2020 reimbursement payment from the state, a municipality must file certain information with the Department of Revenue by August 15, 2019. Here are the details from Wis. Stat. section 79.097, as created by Act 9:

  • Beginning on January 1, 2020, the budget reduces the Video Service Provider (VSP) fee percentage rate a community assesses by 0.5%. So if your community's VSP fee percentage is currently 5% of cable gross receipts, it will be 4.5%. If the percentage is currently 3% it becomes 2.5%.

  • Beginning on January 1, 2021, the VSP fee percentage would be reduced another 0.5%. So if your VSP fee is currently 5% of gross revenues, it will become 4%. If your VSP fee is currently 3% it becomes 2%.

  • The State of Wisconsin will replace the lost revenue to municipalities in 2020 by paying municipalities an amount equal to 0.5% of VSP gross receipts from 2018. The State will make the annual payment to municipalities on or before the 4th Monday in July, 2020.

  • To be eligible for the 2020 payment from the State, municipalities must report to the Department of Revenue no later than August 15, 2019: (1) the gross receipt amounts that VSPs reported to them in 2018 and (2) how much they received in VSP fee revenue in 2018.

  • The State of Wisconsin will replace the lost revenue in 2021 by paying municipalities an amount equal to 1.0% of VSP gross receipts from 2019. The State would make the annual payment to Municipalities on or before the 4th Monday in July, 2021.

  • To be eligible for the annual payment from the State in 2021, municipalities must report to the Department of Revenue no later than August 15, 2020 (1) the gross receipt amounts that VSPs reported to them in 2019 and (2) how much they received in franchise fee revenue in 2019.

  • The State of Wisconsin will continue to replace the lost revenue each year after 2021 by paying municipalities the same amount they received in 2021. (That amount was based on 2019 VSP gross revenues.) The State would make the payment on or before the 4th Monday in July.

  • The Department of Revenue will notify municipalities by October 1 of the amount they will receive in July of the next year.

  • The Department of Revenue may collect other information from municipalities and may specify the time and manner for the collection of that information.

  • The budget does not change any other provisions in the current statute, so VSPs must continue to pay franchise fees on a quarterly basis to municipalities based on the current definition of gross receipts.

DOR has not yet indicated how they want communities to file the information they need to calculate each communities cable franchise fee reimbursement payment.
On July 10 Governor Evers signed SB 239, the small cell bill, into law as Act 14. The Act took effect July 12. The Act creates a uniform framework for the deployment of 5G advanced wireless equipment in municipal rights-of-way within the state.

Act 14 mirrors limitations placed on municipal right-of-way regulatory powers by the  September 2018 Federal Communications Commission 5G ruling. It creates a regulatory framework for the state and local governments for the following: 1) the deployment by wireless service providers of wireless equipment and facilities for 5G service, including the placement of such items in rights-of-way; 2) the local permitting process for certain activities by wireless providers; 3) access to government poles by wireless providers; and 4) the resolution of disputes.

The bill also restores to local governments the ability to impose setback requirements on traditional cell towers proposed to be located on any parcel in which single-family residential is a permitted use.

During the spring, the League, the Counties Association, and the Towns Association negotiated with the cell phone industry and obtained the following changes to an earlier draft of the bill:

1. Provide for an annual 2% escalator to the maximum allowable pole rental charges municipalities may charge.  
2. Allow municipalities to adjust any fee caps imposed by the bill whenever the FCC adjusts its determination of what fee amounts are presumptively reasonable.
3. Restore municipal authority to impose setback limits on macro towers placed on any parcels in which single family residential is a permitted use, regardless if it is the actual current use. (Last session's bill allowed communities to impose setback requirements on  land that was zoned for single-family residential use only.)
4. With regard to the ability of municipalities to recommend a different location for proposed placement of small cell facilities in right of way, delete following language: “within 50 feet of the proposed location”. Also, define what constitutes “Technically feasible.” Allow a wireless provider to reject municipal suggestion for a different location of facilities only if not technically feasible or “material” additional costs would be incurred by the wireless provider.
5. Allow communities to regulate the aesthetics of small cell facilities and support structures placed in the right of way to the same degree communities have such authority under the FCC ruling.
6. Clarify that, consistent with FCC ruling, a municipality may charge fees for each small cell device located on a pole not just one fee for the pole regardless of number of antennas placed on it.

In addition, when attorneys for the City of Milwaukee and Municipal Electric Utilities of Wisconsin expressed concern over a provision in an early bill draft that appeared to preempt municipal powers, the League convinced proponents of the bill to modify the provision to make it clear that municipalities may continue to rely on existing authority to reasonably regulate cable and wireless service providers' use of the right-of-way.

As a result of these changes, the League agreed to take a neutral position on the bill. As did the Counties Association and the Towns Association. 

The cell phone industry attempted to have similar legislation passed last session, but was unsuccessful. Over half of the states have passed similar bills. Wisconsin's version has higher fee caps and is less restrictive on local governments than those passed by other states so far.

The Legislative Reference Bureau has prepared an analysis of Wisconsin's small cell legislation in comparison to similar legislation passed in other states. Read it here.

Last week, Governor Evers signed SB 152 into law as Act 11 , which d efines, authorizes, and creates a framework for the operation of
electric scooters on roadways, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and bicycle ways

Under the Act, a local government may regulate the rental
and operation of electric scooters, but must do so in the same way that it regulates bicycles, except a local government may restrict or prohibit:

  • The operation of scooters on roads with speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour.
  • The operation of scooters on sidewalks and bicycle ways.
  • The short term commercial rental of scooters to the general public.
  • A local government may establish requirements for and limitations on the parking of scooters on roadways, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and bicycle ways.

The Act took effect on July 10.
In the News

Green Bay looks to address affordable housing shortage ... by closing TIFs
The state legislature added the Affordable Housing Extension to the state's TIF law in 2009. It allows municipalities to extend the life of a district by one year provided the tax revenue is channeled into affordable housing anywhere in the community, not just within the TIF district. 

The option, while 10 years old, is not often used. A January 2018 League of Wisconsin Municipalities feature on the extension found six communities — Milwaukee, Madison, Fitchburg, Appleton, Monona and La Crosse — out of 600 cities and villages in the state, have used TIF to fund affordable housing efforts. Read the story...

Assembly's water task force hears from area officials, public
Steiner said the floods in recent years have caused contamination and damaged business and tourism in Burlington.

“Our government, each of you, not prioritizing funding for these known problems in our water creates an immense cost that private residents and businesses are forced to bear,” Steiner said. “Speaker Vos, you asked for solutions to problems that don’t require funding, and I hear that. But if our house had a leak in the roof I would spend money to repair the leak. And I can’t think of anything more important than the health of all of us and our clean water.”  Read the story...

Oshkosh Chamber suggests wheel tax for homeowners, special assessments for businesses
The Chamber supports providing relief to homeowners who get hit with high special assessments, while non-residential properties continue to pay a fair share of the costs. 

While no one likes paying special assessments, local businesses have always been willing pay a fair share for road maintenance, Chamber President/CEO John Casper said Thursday in an interview with USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin. No business has ever come to the Chamber asking for relief from special assessments, he said.  Read the story...

State Budget #LocalGovMatters Podcast
Curt Witynski, the League’s Deputy Director and Mark O’Connell, the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Counties Association talk with Michelle Thompson who is hosting the podcast while Gwyn is on vacation. They discuss the budget and Governor Evers’ vetoes.  Listen on your PC here...

SB 319, Transportation facilities economic assistance and development program. Under current law, the Department of Transportation administers a transportation facilities economic assistance and development program (TEA). As part of an economic development project under TEA, DOT may improve a highway,
airport, or harbor, or provide other assistance for the improvement of such transportation facilities or certain rail property or railroad tracks. DOT may also make loans for the improvement of any of these transportation facilities. The state share of costs for the improvement of any transportation facility (grant ceiling) may
generally not exceed the lesser of 50 percent of the cost of the improvement or $5,000 for each job resulting from the improvement or the economic development project.

This bill specifies that both jobs created and jobs retained resulting from the improvement or economic development project may be used in setting the grant ceiling. By Sen. Petrowski (R-Marathon). The League supports this bill.

SB 321, Telephone company tax exemption for property used to provide broadband service. Exempts property used to provide broadband service to a rural or underserved area from the telephone company tax that is paid to the state by telephone companies in lieu of the general property tax. By Sen. Marklein (R-Spring Green). The League is neutral on this bill.

AB 204, Making numerous changes to municipal court and ordinance enforcement procedures. By Assembly Committee on Judiciary on Thursday, July 18 at 11:00 a.m. in room 300 Northeast, State Capitol. The League is concerned about one change made by the bill, requiring municipalities to provide an armed guard for any municipal court, unless the municipal judge declares it unnecessary. We think this decision is best left to the discretion of the governing body.
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