Janesville in 2019 saw the most claims filed for excessive tax assessments in five years, quadrupling the number of claims filed in 2018.
The increase comes after a citywide revaluation that increased property values in the city by an average of 25%.
City Clerk-Treasurer Dave Godek said revaluations tend to drive assessment challenges.
In 2018, the city’s citizen board of review had 10 meetings. In 2019, the board met in four days and four nights with meetings lasting three hours each, Godek said.
There were 52 claims filed in 2019, up four times from 13 in 2018, according to data from the city.
Since 2015, the next-highest number of claims in a year was 20 in 2015.
Claims are filed in Rock County Court after property owners go through steps to challenge their assessments, including attending the city’s open book period and meeting with the board of review, Godek said.
Property owners can file appeals if they don’t agree with decisions made by the board of review. Some owners choose to waive the board of review process and go right to court, said Tim Wellnitz, assistant attorney for the city.
So far, the city has settled 36 excessive assessment claims for 2019.
The city council July 13 unanimously approved settling claims with 10 commercial property owners resulting in refunds totaling $173,535.
Of that amount, $76,822 is expected to be refunded by the city, pending approval from the state Department of Revenue, according to a city memo.
Sixteen claims from 2019 are pending. No claims have been withdrawn or dismissed.
City council member Doug Marklein pulled the settlements off the council’s consent agenda to say, on principle, he would like to see the city challenge the claims further, but he trusts advice from legal counsel to settle.
Legal counsel told Marklein the settlements likely were the best deal the city will reach, Marklein said.
The city council April 13 under its consent agenda denied claims from BLWL, 509 W. Milwaukee St., and Janesville Hospitality, 3100 Wellington Place.
Refunding taxes for commercial properties, often assessed at higher values than residential properties, results in a shift in tax burden from commercial to residential properties, Godek said.
Residential property owners already saw a shift in burden after the revaluation.
Residential property values increased on average 31%. Commercial property values increased on average 12%.
When commercial properties receive tax refunds, that means other properties have to make up the difference, Godek said.
The city has to weigh several factors when settling a claim, including the potential for success versus the cost of litigation, Wellnitz said.
City officials and outside legal counsel work to decide whether to settle a claim, but ultimately it is the city council that decides whether to settle, Wellnitz said.