YORKVILLE — Racine County is one of five counties that pay the 0.1% sales tax that goes to the Miller Park District, a tax that is currently on track to end in March.
The Southeast Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District (also known as the Miller Park District) was formed in the mid-1990s to provide a new home of the Milwaukee Brewers, who were then playing at aging Milwaukee County Stadium.
The state Legislature passed a 0.1% sales tax for Racine, Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties to pay for Miller Park construction costs and maintenance.
Mike Duckett, executive director of the Miller Park district, told the Racine County Board on Sept. 17 that the district plans to end the sales tax at its meeting in March 2020.
“We are fully confident that on March 10, 2020, at our regularly scheduled meeting, the district Board of Directors will be able to certify the end of the tax and send that certification to the (Department of Revenue),” Duckett said. “The Department of Revenue will then immediately initiate their process to shut the tax down.”
The debt that has been incurred was to build, then maintain, Miller Park.
“It’s important to note the Miller Park District Board issued debt back during construction, never issued any debt thereafter, never incurred any increased obligations or costs thereafter, so our goal has always been to collect enough money to retire the debt,” Duckett said.
“The other thing that we’ve been assured is: We’ll have adequate funds placed in escrow accounts to meet all future needs of the district.”
In 2018, Racine County paid $2.9 million to the taxing body.
Turning off the tax
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Unlike flipping a light switch, it will take the Department of Revenue several weeks to actually turn off the tax, Duckett said. During that time it’s possible the district will have collected $5 million to $20 million which would be put into a segregated account “because we’re waiting for someone to tell us what to do with that money,” he said.
Duckett said he suspects the Legislature will direct the district on how to disperse that money.
He also told the County Board that once the tax is completely ended, the district should have enough money to pay for future upgrades, insurance and other expenditures related to the ballpark.
“The Brewers have done their fair share of routine maintenance and the district, as landlord, has undertaken major capital repairs and necessary improvements,” Duckett said. “Together we’ve got a facility that has no deferred maintenance. You don’t hear that often when you talk about public/private facilities or even public facilities.”
District to ‘dissolve’
Starting in 2021, Miller Park will officially have the words “formerly known as” preceding its title, as the Brewers have signed a new naming rights agreement with American Family Insurance which is contracted to last until 2035.
Ducket told the board that the Brewers have the option to renew the lease on the property, from the Miller Park District, in 2020 to last until 2030, which he believes is likely due to the new naming rights agreement. Once 2030 comes around, it’s possible the district will be in the ninth inning of its existence.
Duckett said the Brewers will have the option to renew the lease a few more times from 2030 until 2040 which would be the final renewal of the property under the legislation that created the district in the 1990s. He said the district will likely “dissolve” around that time.
“There will be no reason for the district to serve as landlord any longer,” Duckett said, adding any funds left in the accounts at the time would be distributed back to the five counties.
In about 2040, Duckett said, he suspects the state Legislature will decide who will “own” Miller Park. It could consider options such as selling the ballpark to the Brewers or to a different entity.