Putting Property Taxes To Bed

HOW WISCONSIN PUTS A LEASH AROUND THE SCHOOL TAX LEVY


Let's not bury the lead here. Bottom line, no matter how hard a school district may want to charge more (levy more) to property owners, they can't easily do it. As a result, when you break it down, what we are taxed is fairly reasonable from year to year.


How it Works

Funds to cover school operations are governed by state statute on what's called the State Funding Formula. The funding formula is driven by a 3-year average of student enrollment. Schools want to tax more? They need more kids. Otherwise, they have to ask for more money.


The only way the school can tax more is to ask the taxpayers to let them. They do this through a referendum. In 2020, the voters in Mequon-Thiensville passed a nearly $56M facilities referendum, adding to an $18.2 facilities referendum in 2015. Once a levy is passed, paying down scheduled principal and interest installments on referendum money borrowed is an automatic add to the total levy each year. You can't go back and un-spend the money. Side note: referendums for money to cover operations are usually not popular for obvious reasons - it means the budget is beyond revenue and there may not be reserves. Facilities referendums are for build-outs of infrastructure; things with more permanancy.


Enrollment is Falling and Costs are Going Up - Taxpayers are/are not Getting Fleeced

Resist the urging to view enrollment trends with changes in cost per student since it's like mixing your metaphors and you'll feel fleeced, but shouldn't.* Again, the number of students (3-year average actually) impacts the amount of the operating levy in total per a State Formula, along with some State-allowed adjustments based on how the numbers are trending.


* We have a video which looks specifically at this comparison: https://youtu.be/HMQ0VsDxoco


After looking at the numbers closely, it appears there are some State allowed cost increases, we'll say cost of living increases, baked into the formula or the adjustments. While worthy of some deeper analysis (information is forthcoming from the District), at the end of the day, the increases over time are not unreasonable. See more below.


Here's a quick look at the numbers.

Highlights:

  • Over the past 5 years, the operating levy has grown 2.2%/year. The total levy is up 2.7%/year or 1.7%/year over 9 years. We presume these are cost increase factors in the state funding formula.

  • The total levy increase over 5 years is $5.5 million, of which 27%, or $1.5 million is due to referendum payments.

  • The number of students has fallen (1%) in the past 5 years or about (0.2%) per year.

  • Big increases come from referendum payments, while in magnitude, they are smaller than the operating levy.


We've provided you all the numbers you need in the ZIP file below:

  • Audited financials

  • Revenue Guide for Property Tax Owners

  • MTSD 2021 Quality Report

  • MTSD 2022 Budget Book

  • Numbers.xls (spreadsheet with the graphs and the work)

Numbers
.zip
Download ZIP • 40.55MB

IMPORTANT NOTE

If anything here is found to be misleading, miscalculated or missing, please e-mail us right away at LetsGo@InformMT.org, so it can be corrected. We're know a lot, but we're not perfect, so forgive us in advance for an missteps. Spelling we'll leave alone, but it was checked.


Sources

MTSD Audited Financials: https://www.mtsd.k12.wi.us/departments/business-office/budget-finance

Video 3 on Numbers: https://youtu.be/HMQ0VsDxoco

Video 2 on Mill Rate and Levy: https://youtu.be/ORIln4ihZlo

Video 1 on Tax Bill and Value: https://youtu.be/bqDuUIci9kM


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