Tax rates don’t tell the whole story

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

You wouldn’t think crossing that invisible line between Janesville and Harmony Township would make a difference.

But when you compare taxes across that line, you could be comparing apples to oranges to tomatoes to snow plows.

One of those invisible lines separates the town with the lowest tax rate in Walworth and Rock counties from the village with the highest tax rate.

Residents of the village of Darien paid more in 2005—$12.53 per $1,000 of equalized value—than any other community in two counties. The 2005 data was the most recent available from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Across the line, town of Darien residents paid the lowest rate—39 cents per $1,000.

Just looking at the rates doesn’t tell the whole story, village Clerk Connie Machi said. One thing that boosts Darien’s rate is the village’s assessment ratio, she said.

Properties in the village haven’t been assessed since 2003, so the ratio has slid to 88 percent of fair market value, Machi said. Because the levy is figured by multiplying the rate by property values, the rate needs to go up as the ratio goes down if the village is going to collect the money it needs to keep services afloat.

The village board has approved a new assessment for the end of 2008.

Across the line, a regional dump helps keep tax rates low in Darien Township, town Chairman Cecil Logterman said.

In 1991, the town negotiated a contract with Waste Management, which bought and expanded the Mallard Ridge Landfill on Highway 11. Republic now owns the landfill and is responsible if anything should go wrong. But the town has money set aside just in case.

Each year, the town uses $250,000 from earned interest for general expenses.

“It’s been a total asset,” Logterman said. “I’m not saying every township should have a landfill, but it’s been great for us.”

Of all the towns in Rock and Walworth counties, the one with the highest tax rate according to the 2005 numbers was the town of Beloit. But that straight number is misleading, said town of Beloit Administrator Bob Muesus.

The town’s population is higher than 70 percent of the villages and cities in Wisconsin, Museus said, and it covers 27 square miles.

“It’s fair to compare our cost of service to another city of our size rather than another town,” Museus said.

Population is just one factor, Museus said. Location, current events and construction and the needs and wants of the residents also are driving forces behind tax bills.

Population also can be misleading when it comes to per capita spending, village of Fontana Administrator Kelly Hayden-Staggs said. At $5,056, the village spends more per person than any other community in two counties.

But Fontana is responsible for much more than the 2,000 people who live there. Vacationers and weekend residents in the lake community make the population swell to at least 8,000, Hayden-Staggs said.

“It’s not based on amount of people, based on our experiences, number of facilities we have and what we have to maintain,” Hayden-Staggs said. “When comparing tax rates and per capita spending between communities, you really have to know what components you’re dealing with.”

Taxing highs and lows

Unless otherwise stated, tax rates and per capita spending are based on 2005 numbers provided by the Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance. Rates are per $1,000 of equalized value.

- Lowest rate in Rock and Walworth counties:

Town of Darien at 35 cents. With 292 residents, the township also has the smallest population of any Walworth County town. The towns of La Grange, Lyons, Janesville and White-water round out the bottom five—all with rates lower than 90 cents per $1,000.

- Highest rate in two counties:

Village of Darien at $12.53. The next closest in the two counties was the nearby village of Sharon at $9.96. The city of Delavan, village of Clinton and village of Footville round out the top five with tax rates of $8.79, $8.70 and $8.31 respectively.

- Highest spending per capita in Rock and Walworth counties:

The village of Fontana spent $5,056 per resident in 2005. Darien was the next highest at $2,163 followed by the city of Delavan at $1,747.

The big spender in Rock County was the city of Beloit at $1,481 per person.

- Lowest spending per capita:

At $155 per person, the town of Union spent the least in 2005. The town of Harmony was next with $193 per person.

The lowest per capita spender in Walworth county was the town of Sugar Creek at $232.

- Highest township tax rate in Rock:

Town of Beloit at $4.75. The lowest was the town of Janesville at 87 cents. The town of Beloit had 7,319 residents—more even than any village in the county—compared to town of Janesville’s 3,343.

The 2008 proposed tax rate for the town of Beloit is $4.55.

-n Tax rates of all Rock County cities:

Beloit $8.02.

Edgerton $7.72.

Evansville $7.52.

Janesville $7.08.

Milton $6.76.


- What is a tax levy?

The tax levy is the slice of a budget that comes from property taxes. For example, in the city of Evansville in 2007, the city levied $1.93 million. State and federal money made up the rest of the city’s $2.72 million budget.

- What is a tax rate?

The tax rate is the dollar amount a property owner will pay in taxes for each $1,000 of a home’s value.

For example, the owner of a $100,000 home in Janesville would have paid $787.50—based on a rate of $7.875—to the city in 2006, according to Herb Stinski, Janesville’s director of administrative services. The same resident would have paid $645.63 to Rock County, $196.94 to the Blackhawk Technical College District, $20.71 to the state of Wisconsin (forestry tax) and $762.79 to the Janesville School District.

A property owner’s tax bill would have been reduced by the state lottery credit of $89.41, Stinski said.

- What is equalized value versus assessed value?

Every municipality has taxable properties assessed on its own schedule. So at any given time, one community might be assessed at 100 percent market value, while another’s might have fallen to 98 percent of market value.

To keep things fair, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue uses a formula to calculate an equalized value.

Administrators use that number to divide up the levy total between the communities. In 2008, Rock County is proposing to levy $53.4 million. Using equalized value, Administrator Craig Knutson can split that total among taxpayers in the county’s 29 municipalities no matter where their homes or businesses are in the assessment cycle.

Last updated: 5:50 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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