The Daily Globe - Serving Gogebic, Iron and Ontonagon Counties

New report explains Wisconsin tax bills


January 4, 2018


The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance notes in a new report the state’s relatively high property taxes are mostly because there are so many fingers in the pie.

Wisconsin has more units of government dipping into the property tax pie than many other states.

Wisconsin’s property tax bills finance K-12 schools, municipalities, counties and technical colleges. A state tax was also on the previous tax bill, but that small fee has been eliminated this year. It was only around $6 on a total tax bill of $2,000.

In 2015, Wisconsin ranked as one of 32 states with all five units on the tax bill, including the state tax, while 18 states had fewer fingers in the pie.

In Iron County, while the school tax levy for 2017 has dropped 3.4 percent, a sharp 18 to 20 percent rise in county taxes counteracts that reduction. The increase resulted because the county was forced to borrow $744,000 for Department of Human Services 2016 placement costs for adults and children.

Next Sept. 1, the county may need to borrow another $1 million to cover the 2017 placement costs, according to Iron County Clerk Mike Saari.

It’s a huge issue for the north.

Saari said Tuesday other northern Wisconsin counties are in the same financial boat, with one county dipping deeply into its highway department budget to cover the DHS expenses.

Saari said the counties are, in effect, being stuck with costs that he believes should be covered by the state.

“We’re just a small county with 6,000 people. Can you imagine what some of the other counties are paying?” he said.

Because town and city levies vary, the overall tax bill increase or decrease varies among municipalities. In Saxon, town taxes went down 1.9 percent, but the overall bill was up 2 percent because of the 18.1 percent county tax increase.

Here’s how 2017 taxes break down for one 34.3-acre parcel of land in Saxon that was assessed at $33,400: School — $258; county — $193; town —  $155; vocational school — $12.80.

In Oma, the county tax increase was nearer to 20 percent.

Many residents look only at the bottom line of their tax bills, but there’s other important information there, such as comparisons to the previous year’s tax categories.

Iron County residents must pay for at least half of their property taxes by the end of January, while the second installment is due by July 31.

Local services

The WTA points out that historically Wisconsin local governments, rather than the state, have provided most public services. As recently as two years ago, local spending still accounted for more than half of the total.

Local governments in Wisconsin depend almost entirely on property taxes. Only counties have a significant revenue option with a possible 0.5 percent sales tax.

The WTA points out other states with local spending like Wisconsin use other taxes — particularly the sales tax — to help pay for services.

The WTA notes the Wisconsin constitution, which requires all property to be taxed uniformly, effectively prohibits the state from targeting tax relief to certain property types, such as residences.

The WTA said many states give homeowners breaks by shifting the burden onto other types of property owners.

Reasons for property tax increases can include variations among individual property assessments, local governments that may levy more than others and shifting property values.


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