School property tax levies for 2009-10 are up 6.0%, from $4.28 billion last year to $4.54 billion this year, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization. The rise in school taxes exceeded last year’s increase of 5.2%, due principally to state budget cuts in aid to K-12 schools.
According to WISTAX, tax changes ranged from increases of 41.2% in Seneca and 32.8% in Gilmanton to reductions of more than 19% in Ladysmith and Sharon J1. However, increases larger than those in prior years were the norm, and 116 districts (27%) of the state’s 425 districts had increases of 10% or more. In another 151 districts, levies were up between 5% and 10%. Only 42 districts cut property taxes.
“Although state budget reductions and tighter school revenue limits have made the headlines,” noted WISTAX President Todd A. Berry, “the more telling stories are coming from budget details.”
For example, schools raised their general fund levies more than 8%, well above the overall 6% increase. They pared back the overall increases by retiring or refinancing debt and by rearranging expenditures formerly charged to a little-known fund exempt from state revenue limits: fund 80, or the community services fund. This fall, 78 of 425 districts trimmed community service levies that fund such items as community recreation and adult classes; 10 districts eliminated the tax altogether. These actions served to reduce what would otherwise have been an 8.2% tax increase.