01STOCK_WALCO_GOV_CENTER

Walworth County Government Center

ELKHORN

A contentious licensing fee for short-term rental units in Walworth County might drop by $304 if the county board approves the new fee.

The county board’s finance committee Thursday recommended lowering the first-year licensing fee from $904 to $600. The county board will vote on the new fee Feb. 12.

The lower first-year fee had been recommended by the Walworth County Land Use and Resource Management Department, which oversees short-term rental units in the county’s jurisdiction. After paying for a first-year license, renters would then pay $300 annually to renew their licenses.

County zoning officials say the proposed lower fee was prompted by cost-cutting measures that saved the department money and a spike in licenses issued, which brought in more revenue.

As of December, the county had issued 67 short-term rental licenses since its new ordinances went into effect in April after a change in state law.

If the new fee is approved, renters who already paid the $904 fee would be reimbursed the $300 difference next year. They also could choose to apply it to their $300 renewal fee.

Shannon Haydin, deputy director of the land use and resource management department, said the county has focused on licensing short-term renters since the new ordinances rolled out, rather than citing them for noncompliance.

Haydin estimates the county has 160 to 170 short-term rental units.

Since the new ordinances took effect, the county has collected $51,528 in fees and spent $31,765 on staffing and running the program, Haydin wrote in a November memo. The county’s cost per license is $618, which is what prompted the suggested fee reduction, she wrote.

County zoning officials also decided to hire a part-time code enforcement officer instead of a full-time officer. The county now has two part-time officers, which has saved money, Haydin has said.

Local renters and real estate professionals criticized the $904 fee when the ordinances debuted last year, with some threatening litigation and others calling it “exorbitant.”

Criticism seems to have eased with the proposed lower fee.

Doug Wheaton, governmental affairs director for the Lakes Area Realtors Association and a critic of the licensing fee, said the association appreciates the proposed reduction but noted that the fee is still the highest in the state.

On Jan. 8, the county board approved changing the wording of its short-term rental ordinances to say that any person who rents a property for fewer than 29 consecutive days must obtain a license.

Under the ordinances, short-term rentals may be rented for no less than seven days and no more than 29 consecutive days.

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