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This Just In ...

Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.

It's beginning to look a lot like tax time

Franklin budgets


First, the disclaimer.

I’m pleased the Franklin Common Council approved Mayor Tom Taylor’s proposed 2014 city of Franklin budget. According to FranklinNOW.com, the budget decreases spending and most importantly includes a freeze in the all-important property tax levy. This is a lot better than the perennial hold-up job perpetrated by the Franklin Public Schools Administration and School Board.

Good work, everyone at City Hall!

Now for the broken record with hopes this repeat message becomes a New Year resolution for those in Franklin city government and for local reporters as well.

City officials from the Mayor on down are fixated on this budget notion of the tax rate. When the budget was approved, FranklinNOW.com reported:

“While the levy will stand at $20.5 million, the tax rate will go up, (Director of Administration Mark) Luberda said.

"The property rate fluctuates due to revaluation and the current rate of $5.78 (per $1,000 of assessed property value) was estimated to go to $6.28," he said.

Newer numbers from the state, however, indicate the new rate will be closer to $6.29 per $1,000 of assessed value, he added.

You're probably aware property tax bills have now been mailed. A recent city of Franklin newsletter stated:

“These property tax bills will reflect a freeze in the amount of property taxes for City purposes, as approved by the Mayor and Common Council as part of the 2014 Budget process.”

Got that. The newsletter continues with the city’s preponderance to focus on the rate.

“For 2014, the City of Franklin was able to reduce the effective property tax rate for general municipal services and was able to limit the change in the special charge for solid waste collection to an increase of just 78 cents per year.”

The rate. The rate. The rate.

“The property revaluation that occurred during 2013 generally identified a decrease in the values of residential property and in the total property value of the City overall. Additionally, the revaluation will result in a slight shift, about 1%, in the property tax burden away from residential properties to other property classifications. The combined result is that the average residential taxpayer will see a decrease in their property tax for City purposes of slightly more than 2%. A revaluation year can create some confusion in this regard since the tax rate itself appears to go up. Nonetheless, the decrease in the property valuation offsets the increase in rate, and, as a result, the average residential property will see the reduction in property taxes for City purposes.”

It’s always the rate.

“While the City of Franklin, therefore, saw a slight decrease in its average effective tax rate, some other taxing jurisdictions increased their tax rates. As such, an individual’s property tax bill may increase overall due to the tax rate increases by these other taxing bodies.”

A better way of stating that last paragraph from the newsletter is that while city of Franklin taxes stayed flat, other taxing entities like the county or school district may have increased their taxes, leading to an increase in the overall taxes paid by city property owners.

The key is that the rate is meaningless. It’s nothing more than a public relations talking point by the taxing authority, in this case, the city.

What’s really and truly important is the property tax levy. A colleague of mine, Jo Egelhoff once wrote the following on her now-defunct blog, FoxPolitics.Net:

It's the tax levy, stupid...

It’s that time of year again. News story after news story about budgets and property taxes. How are you supposed to read them? Very carefully – and using your head.

So, for just a little help with the “using your head part,” below is a slightly updated repeat of last year’s “It’s the tax levy, stupid….”

Numbers, numbers, everywhere numbers. It’s a field day for the media and local governments when tax time comes around.

If there’s nothing else you remember about your property taxes, remember this: It’s the tax levy, friend, the tax levy. (“Stupid” is memorable, but perhaps a little too harsh and Clinton-esque.)

An individual’s tax payments, are ultimately determined by two things:
1. Total tax levy required by the community 2. A property’s value, relative to the rest of the property in your community. Given even these couple of numbers, the very best way to judge a community’s budget is to look at the increase in the TOTAL TAX LEVY. (well, I suppose in the history of the world, a decrease has been registered - somewhere!)

Some would say you can look at the change in the “total” budget or the “operating budget,” but budgets have lots of different categories, and it’s often difficult to compare apples to apples, one year to the next.

So, Junior, it’s the TAX LEVY, the TAX LEVY.
--Jo Egelhoff

She’s right. So do pay close attention, and come 2014 here’s hoping more attention in these parts is paid to the levy because that’s what counts.

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