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Property tax bills hit mailboxes next week

Dec. 3, 2013

Property tax bills will be mailed next week, City Finance Director John Ruggini said, and bills may be available online, through the Wauwatosa Property Tax Web Portal, by Friday.

The portal is accessible through the "property tax" button on the lower left side of the city web site, Wauwatosa.net.

Many homeowners throughout the city will see property tax bills that are lower than last year's tax bills. While the tax rate went up, property values declined, bringing the levy down for many homeowners.

The 2013 net tax rate is $23.74 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, greater than the 2012 tax rate of $22.70 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. A citywide reassessment decreased aggregate home values by 9.3 percent. Including commercial property, the citywide valuation fell 4.2 percent (not the 4.9 percent calculated earlier).

The tax bill includes taxes owed to the city, Milwaukee County, state of Wisconsin, Wauwatosa School District, Milwaukee Area Technical College and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District.

A property owner can estimate his or her 2013 property taxes by taking their 2013 assessed value, dividing by 1,000 and multiplying by the rate, $23.74. Net taxes will be less than that figure, when a lottery credit of $102.10 and a first dollar credit of $59.95 are subtracted. Property reassessment figures were mailed to homeowners in August.

Reduction in values

Because of the reassessment, the average home value, $240,100 last year, is now $217,700, and the total property taxes for all taxing bodies for that home will drop by an estimated $284, from $5,451 to $5,167. Individual homeowners are likely to experience varied changes, and some will pay more.

Homeowners whose property valuation dropped less than 4.5 percent will pay more than they did last year, according to the city. Those whose property values dropped more than 4.5 percent will pay less.

Expecting questions

City Treasurer Derik Summerfield said the reassessment's effect on property taxes likely will prompt questions from taxpayers.

The reassessment "makes (it) difficult to explain to the taxpayer what's going on with the rate," he said. "Really, the levy was close to flat. The only reason the tax rate went up was because the assessment went down. So I think we'll be fielding a lot of questions this year."

An insert to be sent with tax bills and information on the website may help answer questions, he said.

Neighborhood variation

"At the end of the day, most people just care about what happens to their own property," Summerfield said. While the average homeowner will see a decrease, Summerfield said, the reassessment varied by neighborhood.

City Assessor Steven Miner did not return calls this week. In an August interiew, he said there was variation among neighborhoods, with those homes near city amenities — the east end of North Avenue, for example, or the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center, or in and around the Village — faring a little better in the real estate market compared to other locations.

"There's just a lot of very nice neighborhoods," he said, "and those have held their value well."

While at the time he hadn't yet done a full analysis of neighborhood variations, the northern corner of the city was an area that stood out as generally coming in with lower assessments.

Tax payment options

With more people paying less than they did last year, many will have escrow checks eligible for refunds, Summerfield said. This will increase counter traffic at the treasurer's office at City Hall, "so I would urge people to try and use another payment option if possible," he said.

Eligible taxpayers can obtain a refund check by mail, which, with additional tax-time staffing, would be turned around in about a week, he said.

The finance office expects to process about 12,000 property tax transactions this month. About 3,000 of them, he estimated, will be electronic payments directly from bank escrow accounts to the city, many of them for the exact amount due.

Residents with a mortgage agreement allowing this — most of them customers of larger national banks — can check their payment status online at the web page noted above.

Property owners without escrow accounts — or those whose bank payment does not cover the amount due — can pay online at the same web site using a credit card or through an electronic check from a bank account. There is a charge for this service: $1.50 for an electronic payment from a bank account for a payment up to $10,000, and $5 for a payment over that amount.

For those paying by credit card, the charge is 2.39 percent of the transaction, with a $1.50 minimum. For a $5,000 payment, that would amount to about $120.

Summerfield said the city received 2,400 electronic payments last year — about 20 percent of the payments made in December — totaling $12 million in money immediately available to invest.

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