The tax rate is meaningless

Hmm - meme

Tonight the Franklin Common Council meets to adopt next year’s city budget. You may hear talk about the city tax rate. If you do, ignore it. Here’s why from a blog I’ve posted many times in the past in an effort to educate taxpayers:




I’m doing this for the umpteenth time, but with all kinds of new readers and recognizing the old axiom that “repetition is the mother of all students,” this is a must read from a former blogger, posted on October 31, 2007:

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,

One thought on “The tax rate is meaningless

  1. Pingback: My Most Popular Blogs (11/23/20) | This Just In… From Franklin, WI

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