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Wisconsin Property Taxes for Schools Up by Highest Rate in a Decade

by John O'Neil, Chicago, January 2020

 

School property taxes across Wisconsin are going up by more than $220 million. When combined with increases in county and technical college district levies, Wisconsin taxpayers could be hit with largest property tax increase in a decade, according to a Wisconsin Policy Forum report.

 

School Tax Levies Up an Average 4.5%

 

School districts levied $5.21 billion in 2019-20 property taxes compared with $4.99 billion in 2018-19. Just eight of the state’s 421 districts account for more than 1/3 of the increase.

 

Five of the districts with the largest dollar increases in taxes—Madison Metropolitan, Sun Prairie, Middleton-Cross Plains, DeForest, and Verona—are in Dane County. In raw dollars, Madison ($22.1 million) and Milwaukee ($11.6 million) had the biggest increases of any district, which translated into increases of 7.2% and 4.6% respectively.

 

Increased Revenue Limits

 

Complex factors contribute to the amount of money Wisconsin school districts can levy in property taxes. Since 1993, the state has capped the combined amount of property tax and state general aid that school districts can take in per pupil.

 

The recent state budget, however, allows increased revenue limits and increased general school aid. Revenue limits increased by $175 per pupil in 2019-20 and $179 in 2020-21. General school aid increased by $83 million in 2019-20 and $164 million in 2020-21.

 

Referendums Approved

 

In addition to the increased revenue limits, an unusually large number of school tax referendums have passed in recent years. Taxpayers have consistently voted to increase public school funding rather than reduce property taxes.

 

For example, voters approved 94% of ballot questions worth $1.37 billion across 57 school districts in November 2018.

 

Many of last year’s school referendums are still being phased in and large districts such as Milwaukee and Madison are contemplating putting additional referendums before voters. The report concludes that the issues raised by this year’s tax bills will bear watching in the future.