Tax challenges boost city's legal costs

June 13, 2012

Five major taxpayers are challenging their 2010 property assessments, busting the city attorney's litigation budget this year.

City Attorney Alan Kesner asked the Budget and Finance Committee on Tuesday for an additional $75,000 from contingency funds to pay for outside counsel to litigate the cases, including paying expert witnesses to bolster the city's position.

"We've just hit a really big year in trial and discovery work," he said, adding economic conditions have led taxpayers to try to reduce tax costs.

The city already has spent $75,000 this year fighting property tax challenges. Boston Store, Macy's, Walgreens - which has four Wauwatosa locations - Target and GE Healthcare are all challenging their assessments.

Wauwatosa is paying to prevent what could amount to $1.5 million in tax refunds if the challengers are successful, Kesner said. The city would be responsible for about a third of the refunds, with the school district, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District and Milwaukee Area Technical College making up the rest. However, the city is charged with defending the property values for all the taxing entities, Kesner said.

The committee unanimously supported the additional funding and the request will go to the Common Council next week for a vote.

"You need to spend money to save money in this case," Alderman Don Birschel said.

The city has won a case against Boston Store in Milwaukee County Circuit Court already this year and expects one or two more trials to occur in coming months.

The committee also recommended allocating $25,000 for anticipated expenses as the city protects its interests as the state Public Service Commission deliberates about where to place power lines.

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