Focus Newsletter First look at 2012 property tax totals

January 9, 2012  •  Vol. 2012 No. 1
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  • Summary
  • Press Release
  • Enough information about 2012 property tax bills around the state is in to estimate that levies statewide are up about 0.3%, the smallest increase since a cut in 1996-97. Of course, local changes will vary from state averages. School taxes led the way, with a 1.0% drop due to the first-ever rollback in state revenue limits. State limits also slowed levy growth in counties (1.1%) and technical colleges (1.8%).

  • Dale J. Knapp or Todd A. Berry

    First Statewide Estimate Shows 2012 Property Taxes Up 0.3%

    2011-12 Levy Increase Is Smallest Since 1996-97 Cut

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    MADISON—Total statewide property taxes are up 0.3% in 2012, according to preliminary estimates from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX). This year’s increase is the smallest in 15 years; the state spent $1 billion to buy down school levies in 1996-97. Now celebrating its 80th year, WISTAX is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to policy research and citizen education.

    The tax hike is small this year principally because the school levy, the single largest part of a typical tax bill, dropped 1.0%. Tightened state-imposed revenue limits were the main cause. Municipal (city, village, and town) levies, which account for about 24% of the average tax bill, are expected to rise between 1.5% and 2.0%, below the average increase of the past five years (3.6%). Although municipal property tax limits were tightened in last summer’s state budget, the municipal increase partly reflects increased borrowing not restricted by the limits, WISTAX said.

    Preliminary figures also show county levy increases averaged 1.1% statewide—down from 1.9% in 2011 and 3.2% in 2010. According to WISTAX researchers, about one in three counties froze their levy at last year’s level or reduced it, while five counties—Bayfield, Winnebago, Marathon, Washington, and Brown—cut taxes by 1% or more. Just 14 counties raised their levy by 2% or more, while five (Crawford, Columbia, Kewaunee, Dane, and Calumet) increased taxes by more than 4% this year.

    Property taxes levied by the state’s 13 technical college districts were up an average of 1.8% in 2012. However, that was due mainly to a borrowing referendum in the Madison district resulting in a 14.7% levy hike. Excluding Madison, no technical college levy changed by more than 1.9%, up or down.

    Property tax growth has moderated somewhat over the past three decades, WISTAX said. While tax increases averaged 7.9% annually during the 10 years prior to 1996-97, taxes rose an average of 4.9% per year since. Increases of 4.2% in 2010, 2.7% in 2011, and an estimated 0.3% in 2012 were all below average.

    A copy of the Focus newsletter, “First look at 2012 property tax totals,” is available at or by e-mailing; calling 608.241.9789; or writing WISTAX at 401 North Lawn Ave., Madison, WI 53704-5033.


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