|It's just an illustration but already my eyes|
are getting hazy
“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Benjamin Franklin
The property tax bills have been sent out and by now you've probably have yours in hand. I'm sure we all wish it didn't come so close to Christmas (you can almost hear Ebenezer Scrooge, cane in hand, heartily 'bahumbugging' carolers at the door as we open up our tax bill). Some of us pay our taxes bi-annually – one installment at the end of January and the other by the end of July – but if you're like us, part of our monthly mortgage bill includes money put in escrow for taxes. Our tax bill came a week or so ago and our escrow check was a little bit light. Good thing for us that years ago we began the habit of setting a little aside each week for just that eventuality.
In the two and a half years I have served as mayor, I really don't get a lot of complaints. Honestly, I get more “attaboys” than anything else. But certainly one of the categories of complaints I do get – when I get them - is how high our taxes are in our town. Who am I to disagree with anyone? I, too, feel sometimes I pay through the wazoo for taxes but is there anyone who doesn't? Actually I'm wondering for the kinds of services we do receive is it really better in other places? I mean for the size municipality we do live in to boast a 24/7 police force, a municipal court, weekly garbage pick-up, an aging but functioning water and sewer system, fire and ambulance services provided by a dedicated group of volunteers, a wonderful public library, a beautiful community center, a crack public works department, a city clerk and her staff second to none. And if you read the fine print of your most recent tax bill do you realize that our levy did not go up one dime since last year? You know the old saying, 'There is no free lunch'? Based on what we get for our dollar our lunch may not be free around here but we get it at bargain prices.
The following document is something Carmen Newman, our ever so capable City Clerk, made up to try and break down just where our tax dollars go.
|Want a copy of your own? If you stop in at City Hall I'm sure Carmen would only be too happy|
to print it off for you
It's fairly self-explanatory but here's some things to point out just so you don't miss it:
• Everybody gets a piece of the “action”: the County, Chetek-Weyerhaeuser Area School district and WITC takes their cut as well as the city.
• The CWAD levy changes frequently: if you notice, while the
city's levy remained the same as last
year's, the school's went up $71,500 (more than any other revenue
collector). Why? Carmen shared with me an email she had received last
year from CWAD's Business Manager Tammy Lenbom who explained school
levies this way:
|Once upon a time maybe...|
School districts have a revenue limit that we can levy up to...it is not a set percentage and will vary based on the number of students and property valuation.
In our case, we are losing state aid at the rate of 15% per year (mainly due to high property values...lake property and sand plants). We are held harmless which means we cannot lose more than the 15% so we receive what is called special adjustment aid.
When we lose state aid it shifts the burden to the taxpayer resulting in a higher tax levy increase.
I don't want to put words in Tammy's mouth but it sounds like if you want to know why the school's levy went up so much blame Madison. Otherwise, I guess it's the cost of doing business and the price of a good school.
• Your city portion of your tax bill has remained fairly conservative. Since 2014, the levy has increased modestly. This year it did not go up at all. Zero. Nada. Some criticism has been raised over recent purchases the city made (e.g., the old Chetek Cafe building and the former Jennie O Breeder farm). Remember: no one was billed for these purchases. Outlay money was used to acquire these properties. Same goes for the $100K worth of new sidewalks that have gone in over the last two budget cycles courtesy of your city council.
Every year between September and November's council meeting, various hearings are held to determine the budget for the upcoming year. Police, Public Works, Public Library, and The Center all bring their individual budgets to the table while Carmen and Cassandra crunch numbers calculating potential wage increases for our people as well as the price of insurance. Understandably, every department head lobbies for the things they feel they “gotta have” for the upcoming year. On the main, however, there really aren't a lot of negotiations. What “needs to be done” is usually pretty obvious. For example, last year Public Works Director Dan Knapp “bankrolled” the State aids we usually receive for improving our streets. That's why no roads were resurfaced in 2018. In 2019, however, we'll use that money and this year's amount because as far as the State is concerned if you don't use it you lose it. So, we're gonna use it. That's pretty obvious.
If you google anything on tax levies and mill rates you will find links to everything – and then some – on all the minutia of 'how it works' and 'where the money goes'. For the most part, it's pretty boring stuff if you ask me and it's almost impossible for short-and-to-the-point answers. For example, DPI tries to break down school spending but they lose me two-thirds down the page at “Tertiary Aid Tier” (“tertiary” is a word school administrators like to throw around; same goes for “pedagogical review”for that matter). But based on the chart Carmen has created it at least helps me understand what the fine print means and how we get those numbers. While we each still have to pay our tax bill maybe it helps knowing that that whatever is your bottom line wasn't conjured out of thin air. Nope. It's based on the value of your home and - this year - the rate of $25.87 per $1,000 of its value as well as a mindful city council who with a lot of help from Carmen generally stays on top of things. And that's a very good thing.