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Despite Pandemic, More County Sales Taxes Collected in 2020


Restaurants, hotels and theaters have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many saw a sharp decrease in revenue collected in 2020 compared to 2019.

But despite the pandemic, counties across the Northwoods collected more in county sales taxes than ever before.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve spoken with local entrepreneurs whose businesses have been upended by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That includes business owners like George Rouman, who owns a movie theater in Rhinelander.

“We’re running at 4 percent of our revenues,” Rouman said about his business. “That’s insane.”

Last year was a difficult year for many, but perhaps not for everyone.

The pandemic also drove visitors up to the Northwoods.

That might be one reason why collected county sales taxes in counties across Northern Wisconsin are higher than they’ve ever been before.

The county sales tax is a 0.5 percent tax on top of the 5 percent state sales tax.

We pay this sales tax when we buy things like clothes, recreational equipment, computers and office supplies.

Last year, Oneida County saw an almost 10 percent increase in collected sales tax compared to 2019.

In December alone, the county collected over $480,000.

That’s almost $200,000 more than it collected in December of the year prior.

“That was pretty shocking to see that December increase was a 57 percent increase,” said Lauren Sackett, the executive director of the Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce. “It’s pretty significant.”

Sackett said she hopes this means more people were spending locally.

What can explain this spike in collected county sales taxes in the middle of a pandemic?

Sackett thinks it could be partly related to high demand for outdoor recreation equipment.

“Boats and bikes and things like that were in very demand because people were trying to be outdoors more than normal,” Sackett said.

Some people also started working from home because of COVID-19.

Sackett said maybe that means they started spending money closer to home too.

Regardless of why collected sales taxes have increased, it’s a good sign for the Northwoods area.

“We know that small businesses help keep money right here in our community,” said Sackett.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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