Wisconsin Taxpayer Magazine 2013 Property Taxes in Review

July 2013  •  Vol. 81 No. 6/7
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  • Summary
  • Press Release
  • With tighter property tax limits in place, total property tax levies rose 0.8% to $10.47 billion in 2013. Combined with last year’s 0.2% increase, 2013 marked the first in at least 67 years that gross levies increased less than 1% in back-to-back years. After subtracting various credits, net property taxes claimed 4.1% of state personal income. Over the past 10 years, net levies have ranged from 4.1% to 4.4% of personal income. Municipal levies rose 1.5% last year, the smallest increase in 30 years.

  • Dale J. Knapp or Todd A. Berry

    2013 Property Taxes Grow 0.8%

    State-Imposed Limits the Main Cause

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    MADISON—With tighter property tax limits in place for the second consecutive year, total property tax levies in Wisconsin rose 0.8% to $10.47 billion in 2012-13 (2013). Combined with last year’s 0.2% increase, this was the first time since at least 1946 that levies rose less than 1% in consecutive years, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). In its latest report, "2013 Property Taxes in Review," WISTAX also highlights changes in municipal levies using recently-released figures from the state Department of Revenue. WISTAX is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to public policy research and citizen education.

    In both 2012 and 2013, municipal property taxes were allowed to increase at the greater rate of net new construction or 0%. Overall, municipal levies rose 1.5%—the smallest increase in 30 years—to $2.50 billion. Among the three types of municipalities, town levies (0.8%) increased the least. City levies rose 1.4%, while village levies were up 2.7%.

    Of the 30 largest communities, municipal levies grew the most in Racine (5.9%), Mount Pleasant (5.7%), Madison (3.6%), Greenfield (2.7%), and Superior (2.7%). Municipal levies fell just under 1% in both Appleton and Neenah.

    The state’s 72 counties faced the same limits as municipalities. County property taxes rose 0.7% to $1.99 billion, following a 1.1% increase last year. Levy changes ranged from -2% to +2% in 62 of the 72 counties. The largest increases were in Chippewa (4.9%) and Kewaunee (4.1%), while levies dropped more than 2% in Washington, Marathon, and Lafayette counties.

    Wisconsin’s 424 K-12 school districts levied property taxes totaling $4.66 billion in 2013, an increase of 0.2% from 2012. The modest increase was due largely to a $50 per student (about 0.5%) increase in state-mandated revenue limits. Tax changes varied by district due to the effects of the school aid formula and to new or expiring referenda. Thirteen districts increased property taxes more than 10%. Another 13 reduced levies more than 10%.

    Among the five major users of the property tax, the state’s 16 technical college districts increased levies the most, 2.0% in 2013. North Central (Wausau) cut its levy 2.3% while Southwest Wisconsin (Fennimore) reduced its levy 0.8%. Another eight technical college districts left their levies unchanged from 2012 or increased them less than 1%. Larger increases in the Fox Valley (Appleton, 7.4%), Madison (4.0%) and Milwaukee (3.6%) districts helped drive the overall increase.

    A free copy of The Wisconsin Taxpayer, "2013 Property Taxes in Review," is available by visiting www.wistax.org; emailing wistax@wistax.org; calling 608.241.9789; or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033.


    Number of Wisconsin Teachers, School Staff Increases in 2013
    Three-Year Decline Halted

    MADISON—The number of Wisconsin public school teachers rose modestly in 2013 from 59,384 to 59,540, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) said today. This ended a three-year decline in teaching positions. Despite the 2013 increase, teacher numbers declined 2.1% during 2011-13, following a drop of 2.6% during 2009-11. These are some of the important findings in WISTAX’s new report, "Post Act 10 School Staffing." WISTAX is a nonpartisan organization dedicated to public policy research and citizen education.

    Most school districts added teachers in 2013, according to WISTAX researchers who relied on staffing statistics from the state Department of Public Instruction. The staff increases were partly due to Madison’s new four-year-old kindergarten program—Madison added 150 teachers (7.0%). Two of its neighbors, Verona (20 or 5.3%) and McFarland (32 or 16.8%), also increased teacher numbers significantly. Of the state’s 30 most populous districts, 20 added teachers, including Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, Appleton, Waukesha, Eau Claire, and Sheboygan.

    However, in 2013, 205 districts reduced teaching staffs, with 96 cutting them by at least 2% in 2013. Nearly all of the 25 districts reducing staffs the most in percentage terms were small. Fifteen had fewer than 500 students; another six had fewer than 1,000; and another three had fewer than 1,700. The exception was Kenosha with over 22,000 students, where the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) teachers fell by 178 (12.4%), following a reduction of 242 teachers (14.4%) the prior year, according to the WISTAX analysis.

    The new figures are useful because of the uncertain effects of cuts in school revenue limits and state aid contained in the 2011-13 state budget. That budget reduced school revenue limits (the sum of state aid and property taxes) 5.5%. Act 10 was designed to lessen the impact by requiring public sector employees to pay half of their state retirement contribution and by removing benefits from collective bargaining. The latter allowed districts to change health plans, require higher copays and deductibles, and make other changes to benefits. These potential cost savings were meant to help districts minimize or avoid layoffs. Statewide, average teacher benefits fell from $27,665 in 2011 to $23,182 in 2012 and to $23,006 in 2013. However, some districts had contracts in place prior to the signing of Act 10, which limited or eliminated the savings.

    The new WISTAX report also examined two years of staff changes since 2011. Of the state’s 424 school districts, 296 reduced teaching staffs, with 29 cutting by 10% or more and another 90 by at least 5%. A total of 128 districts added teachers, with 19 increasing staffs more than 5%. Four districts—McFarland, Geneva J4, Madison, and Independence—added at least 10% more teachers. By contrast, the number of teachers fell 15% or more in Kenosha, North Lakeland, Friess Lake, Dover #1, Washington, and Crivitz.

    The first significant teacher reductions occurred after enactment of the 2009-11 state budget, which reduced state aid and slowed the growth of school revenue limits. The number of teachers fell 1.3% in both 2010 and 2011.

    WISTAX researchers also examined changes in school staff, other than teachers. The number of administrators, pupil service personnel, and aides all rose slightly in 2013. Total school staff rose from 99,241 in 2012 to 99,265 this year.

    A free copy of the most recent issue of The Wisconsin Taxpayer, which includes the report "Post Act 10 School Staffing," is available by visiting www.wistax.org; emailing wistax@wistax.org; calling 608.241.9789; or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033.

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