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Walworth County Government Center

ELKHORN

Walworth County officials have lowered the county’s contentious licensing fee for short-term rental units by $304, but critics claim the fee is still too high.

The Walworth County Board this week approved dropping the fee from $904 to $600 for first-year applicants. Officials say the change was prompted by cost-saving measures in the county land use and resource management department and a surge in licenses issued last year.

As of December, 67 short-term rental licenses had been issued since the county overhauled its licensing ordinances based on a change in state law.

Annual renewals will cost $300. Renters who already paid the $904 licensing fee may be reimbursed or apply the difference toward their renewal fee.

The initial $904 licensing fee and new ordinances prompted widespread criticism.

Doug Wheaton, government affairs director for the Lakes Area Realtors Association, said the association “sincerely” appreciates that the county has reduced the fee.

“However, to the best of our knowledge, it is still the highest county home rental license fee in the state,” Wheaton said.

He said Dane County charges $535 for first-year applicants and $160 for annual renewals, which he believes is the second-highest amount in the state.

Martin Murphy, who filed a federal lawsuit against the county last year, said officials are charging a fee but not providing a service, which makes the price excessive.

Murphy said the case could go to trial sometime in April if the judge does not issue a summary judgment.

He argues that the new ordinances violate the equal protections clause and penalize homeowners who operate short-term rentals. He also argues that they are subjective because they limit a short-term rental’s occupancy to the size of its septic system.

“Forget about the economics. A home is a home. The use is still residential. We’re not changing the use,” Murphy said.

“If my house is residential, and your house is residential, and if I rent mine out, and you don’t, why am I being treated different?” he asked.

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