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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.

The tax rate vs. the tax levy

Franklin budgets


One of the common miscues made by reporters when writing about local government budgets is to focus on the tax rate.
 John Neville did it in his article on this website and in the community section of your newspaper today.

Here’s the first portion of Neville’s article:

Franklin city taxes could jump 3.2 percent due to state revenue
By John Neville
Staff Writer
Posted: Oct. 31, 2007

Under Mayor Thomas Taylor's proposed 2008 budget for Franklin, the city's tax rate of $5.57 per $1,000 of assessed property value will increase to $5.75, a 3.2 percent hike.

The city's portion of the tax bill on a residence valued at $250,000 would jump by $44.35.

The total proposed budget is $24.08 million, up from $22.87 million in 2007, or 5.3 percent.

Taxpayers need to understand that the tax rate is insignificant. It’s the tax levy that’s important.

In order to provide you with an important civics lesson in Tax Levies 101, I turn to my friend and fellow blogger Jo Egelhoff of FoxPolitics.Net. Her blog, posted earlier this morning, is simply entitled:

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.

The fussy variable that wants to confuse property owners, local officials and especially the guys with the ink, is property values. They change. Sometimes it’s new construction, new value added to the community. Sometimes it’s just inflationary increases of existing properties. It all combines to make a big mess of tax numbers and tax season information.

Because of this business of property value, tax RATE numbers are meaningless. Absolutely meaningless. And so, in most instances, are the calculations that tell you the tax on a $150,000 home. Was it $150,000 last year too? And if not, how much did it increase? Depending on your community, your home may or may not retain the same value for a number of years at a time. Therefore…. disregard all information presented to you about tax RATES and taxes on a $150,000 (or whatever) home.

Remember. It’s the TAX LEVY. The TAX LEVY.

Now that we have that down…. one more point to consider. And it’s an important one.

At budget time, look for information about the increase in new construction in your community. This is really important and often a hard number to find in print.

Because unlike increases in value from reassessment of existing properties, new construction is real growth in a community. And if the TAX LEVY rises by less than the increase in new construction, then on average, an individual property owner’s taxes really are going down.

That new construction number is also important because it serves as the Property Tax “Freeze” tax cap if it’s higher (in 2008) than 3.86%. Too many numbers and explanations already. More on the tax cap calculation another day.

-Jo Egelhoff,

Jo is right.

So when you read an article that states Franklin’s city tax rate is going up 3.2%, that information is useless.

The critical information pertains to the city of Franklin’s tax levy.

Mayor Tom Taylor has proposed a budget with a tax levy increase of 5.7%.


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