The relationship between property values and the tax levy is like a pizza.
Bear with us because it’s the only way to make property assessments sound sexy. Or interesting.
The pizza’s size is based on the money a municipality needs to pay for different services. Each slice represents a property, and each slice contributes its share of taxes to complete the pie.
In this pizza analogy, the slices are irregular. Bigger slices pay more in taxes. Smaller slices pay less.
The analogy is one method city Finance Director Max Gagin uses to simplify the complicated and mundane topic of property valuation.
Public confusion over the issue might arise in the next few weeks as city officials mail assessment change notices to property owners after a nearly yearlong revaluation process.
The first thing residents should understand? An increase in a home’s value does not necessarily mean the owner will pay more in property taxes, City Assessor Michelle Laube said.
The revaluation process began last summer with the aim of aligning property assessments with fair market values. Assessments had fallen to an estimated 82.7% of fair market value, meaning the city was out of compliance with state law, she said.
The revaluation looked at all properties—residential, commercial, industrial. The average residential property value increased by 31%, from $122,200 to $160,800, Laube said.
That surge reflects a tight housing market that was deemed by Realtor.com last summer as one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.
Janesville’s equalized value also rose by 23% from 2015 to 2018—by far the highest among the city’s 14 peer communities.
While the spike in equalized value is a separate issue from the assessment notices, it’s related evidence of strong regional growth that has boosted property values, Gagin said.
The 31% rise in residential values doesn’t mean tax bills will jump by the same percentage.
Some people’s property taxes will increase. Others will decrease, and some will stay the same. The city already has a tax rate calculator posted on its website so residents can see the estimated tax impact of their assessment change.
The exact effect on tax bills won’t be known until the city and other taxing entities, such as Rock County and the school district, finalize their tax rates later this fall, Laube said.
Before residents receive their assessment notices, Laube wants them to know the basics about what they’re getting.
“One of the main pieces to stress: This is not a tax bill. This is just your notice of your assessment change,” she said. “Because a lot of people will misinterpret that that change is a tax change. It’s just the assessed value.”
If residents believe their assessments are incorrect, they can schedule appointments with an assessment worker to discuss them further. Appointments run from June 6 to 26.
William “Bill” Bever
Richard “Rick” Ericksen
Daniel Scott Nenneman
Timothey M. Page
It took more than a month for Doretha Lock-Davis to put her anguish on paper.
She described in a statement—crafted during the same month as Mother’s Day, no less—what it was like to lose her son, Christopher J. Davis, in February 2016, two weeks before his 22nd birthday. The process felt “like ripping your heart out.”
“It’s not easy for me to get through one sentence,” she said in Walworth County Court on Thursday.
Nevertheless, she relived her agony at the sentencing hearing for Jose G. Lara, the man in the driver’s seat next to her dying son, whom then-Deputy Juan Ortiz shot as Lara drove away from an East Troy parking lot.
Looking intently at one of the last people to see her son alive, Lock-Davis forgave Lara, the man who would leave the courtroom Thursday to begin a four-year prison term. Her forgiveness came “with no strings attached.”
Lock-Davis said she needed a break after speaking and listening to her other son, Paul Davis, who also forgave Lara over the death of his younger brother who was “taken too soon.” So Judge Daniel Johnson called for a five-minute break.
Without speaking, Lara then stood up, walked over to Paul and hugged him. He then did the same with Lock-Davis.
The unity in words between opposite sides of the courtroom—brought together by the death of a young man from Milwaukee who won’t ever know his nephews—became unity in action. The Davis family and Lara moved to the other side of the gallery and tearfully gathered with Lara’s family members.
And they prayed together.
“Dear God, we thank you for the families we have, for the families we gained,” Paul said.
“God, we pray for peace and understanding, understanding that it’s your will—peace that calms the spirit, peace that calms the heart, peace that calms the mind, peace that lets us know that you are here in our darkest hours, peace that lets us know you’re standing there when the sun is shining brightest.”
“God, we understand that life is never as what we planned but according to your plan.”
Along with Lara’s four-year prison sentence, the judge added five years of extended supervision.
What led up to these displays of pain and grace started Feb. 24, 2016, when police responded to Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge in East Troy for an anticipated drug bust.
Police claim Lara began to drive away as Ortiz, now a Walworth County sheriff’s detective, fired shots into the car as it came toward him (a matter Lara disputes). One of the bullets hit Christopher in the head before a high-speed chase ensued.
Lara, 34, also of Milwaukee, pleaded guilty in March to conspiracy to deliver cocaine and attempting to flee a traffic officer—the two charges he originally faced.
Assistant District Attorney Haley Johnson said a confidential informant set up the cocaine deal with Roberto J. Juarez Nieves Jr., who has also pleaded guilty in the case.
Lara asked to use Christopher’s car. The Davis family has said Christopher was unaware they were going to buy drugs.
In February 2018, the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office charged Lara with party to second-degree reckless homicide, though that charge was eventually dismissed and read in to the court record as part of the plea agreement.
Dan Necci, the district attorney at the time, said the shooting was justified.
But Lock-Davis in November filed a lawsuit against Ortiz and other law enforcement officials and jurisdictions, saying some of their statements about the case were false.
The lawsuit also says “deliberate indifference and negligence” preceded the hastily organized drug bust and eventual shooting. She also claims officers destroyed squad-car camera video.
Lock-Davis said her healing is “hindered by all the unanswered questions surrounding this incident.”
Lara’s lawyer, James Duquette, said his client had a “somewhat rougher upbringing” but that he had been out of trouble since 2003 and showed a great work ethic to his children.
Duquette said the Davis family’s statements were “a powerful moment.”
“This was a dark, tragic event in many ways,” he said, “but I think we all witnessed some beauty and humanity.”
Johnson, the judge, said it was clear the Davis family was strong after their “heartfelt” display—something he said he doesn’t see in court very often.
Lara spoke briefly during the hearing, where he apologized.
“We forgive and love, genuinely, because that’s how we were raised,” Paul, Christopher’s brother, told the court. “That’s what we were taught as young men—that we love and we do things from the heart.”
The Davis family’s grace was as real Thursday as their pain. Paul didn’t believe what he heard when he first got the call.
“I had to tell my sister, ‘Don’t play with me like that,’” he said.
But his little brother—the one he woke up for school and protected on the playground—was gone.
Through all the painful and sleepless nights, there is one lasting memory Lock-Davis is grateful for.
While in Lara’s car but before he died, Christopher got on the phone with his mom. With some of his final breaths, he told her he loved her five times.
“I don’t know which one of you dialed the number. I don’t know how,” she said. “But I thank you for that moment. That was the last words he said.
“For that, thank you.”