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Bill might be too late for Milton tax problem

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Stacy Vogel
November 6, 2009
— A bill to fix Milton’s tax assessment error might come too late to make things right before tax bills go out, but it draws attention to a larger problem, Rep. Kim Hixson said.

Hixson, D-Whitewater, on Thursday introduced legislation in the Assembly to allow the Department of Revenue to fix the $31.6 million assessment error that has plagued the city and school district of Milton.


Thursday was the last day of the state legislative session before its winter break. The legislature isn’t scheduled to meet again until January.


Tax bills typically go out in December, meaning the legislature can’t fix Milton’s problem unless it schedules a special session.


The city announced last week that, because of an assessment mistake, it overvalued new property in a tax incremental financing district by $31.6 million and undervalued non-TIF property by the same amount.


State law says once the Department of Revenue certifies assessments, they can’t be changed until the following year.


The mistake is causing headaches for the city, school district and other taxing entities. For example, the school district will receive about $200,000 less from the city than it should in 2010, but will get that amount back in 2011.


The city hopes to make up the error using fund balance so taxpayers don’t feel the effects.


But some, including Hixson, wonder why the assessment can’t be changed now, before it affects municipal budgets.


“This does bring to the fore the idea that there is a problem with the system and how we handle this,” he said.


Hixson found out about the problem last week and rushed to introduce legislation as soon as possible, he said. Though it looks like the legislation won’t be passed in time to solve the problem, he hopes it can be solved through non-legislative means.


“We’re certainly going to try to continue to work with the (Department of Revenue), for example, to try to make sure we can fix that,” he said. “It may be that somehow we are able to fix the problem without a change in statute.”


Regardless of what happens in Milton, Hixson hopes the legislature can adjust the process so this doesn’t happen for another municipality.


Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit, is working on legislation to allow assessment errors to be fixed more quickly by the Department of Revenue, a spokeswoman at her office said. Hixson hopes to work with her on the legislation, he said.


Milton Mayor Tom Chesmore said he appreciates Hixson’s work on Milton’s behalf, even if it won’t solve the problem right away.


“They’re moving extremely fast on this, and if they could get something in place at least to save the next community from having to go through what Milton … is going through, that’s great,” he said.



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