Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
Franklin has many wonderful characteristics. A high degree of political activism is not one of them. That’s why what happened during 2013 was remarkable. More details to follow.
It’s a sad fact that whenever people learn where I reside their reactions are typical:
OH MY GOD!
THOSE OBSCENE TAXES!
HOW CAN YOU AFFORD TO LIVE THERE?
Yes, I know. And I’m sure many a Franklin resident would concur.
However Franklin suffers from an extreme case of apathy. It’s an epidemic. Common Council and School Board meetings rarely have anyone in attendance. There’s barely a whimper about the behavior of our elected officials.
I can remember on less than one hand the occasions that really got Franklinites riled up:
1) The prospect of a sex predator house being constructed
2) A local smoking ban
3) An aldermanic recall
Otherwise…huge property tax increases? Spending sprees? Wasted spending?
A rare exception occurred in late 2012 and again in 2013.
Imagine receiving a reassessment notice in the mail from the city assessor indicating the value of your home went up 25%. You’re astounded, so you call the office to inquire why. You’re informed that the increase is due to the new backyard swimming pool you’ve installed. The problem is…you don’t have a swimming pool.
That kind of describes the kick in the stomach many Franklin property owners felt in 2012 having learned that with the completion of a sanitary sewer system, all of Franklin is now under the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District (MMSD). MMSD, an unelected, unaccountable body, now has the authority to tax all Franklin properties, even those that do not use the sewer system.
The city of Franklin reported in its December 2012 newsletter to residents “some properties will see charges for the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) for the first time on these property tax bills. MMSD is a separate, independent taxing body from the City. In 2011, after a public hearing, the MMSD Commission approved an action requiring all properties in Franklin to be included in the MMSD district and subject to the MMSD tax. Properties not previously in the MMSD district will now see this added line and cost on their property tax bill. For additional information on this action, please contact MMSD directly at 414-272-5100.”
People were ticked.
FranklinNOW reported that the Common Council was admonished at its December 18, 2012 meeting by some residents including Pat Shawgo ("We resent paying for something that we are not using”) and Judy Napientek (“Our taxes are up and your credibility is very impacted”).
Franklin mayor Tom Taylor responded:
"MMSD's action and decision directly expanded the district and applied the new property tax levy to these parcels. This action was outside the direct control of the city and was not approved by the city."
Again, what happened at a Common Council meeting in August 2013, the middle of summer mind you, was nothing short of shocking. Imagine the faces of our aldermen when they looked out in the audience and saw an actual crowd, a crowd of local residents who were there to protest.
You mean you don’t like a tax hike? No they don’t.
Bravo for standing up! Sounds like they were justified in their anger and outrage.
This reawakening was exactly the kind of demonstration that needs to happen more often at Common Council and especially School Board meetings.
Not so fast!
Got my reassessment notice in the mail this past July from all my friends at Franklin City Hall.
My assessment went down a whopping 13.5%
Since I’m not planning to put a FOR SALE sign on the front lawn anytime soon, I should be thrilled from a property tax perspective, especially residing in Tax Hell, WI, USA, right?
My assessment is not an isolated incident. Lots and lots of fellow Franklinites got the same love note from City Hall. The average homeowner can’t begin to fathom the process considered or what goes through the mind of an assessor, especially when nothing, NOT A THING has changed his property, good or bad. Homeowners are simply not equipped with the same government-ese as the pencil-pushing City Hall bureaucrats. So they quickly and ordinarily assume that if the assessment goes down, so will property taxes. It’s just the opposite, even more so in a tax and spend atrocity like Franklin.
How can that possibly be? You’re telling me the city deems my land and my house aren’t as valuable as they used to be, but I will still owe them more?
For a very simple explanation that I do not guarantee will be satisfying, I turn to a notice sent out by the WI Department of Revenue in July of 2009:
Wouldn't my property taxes go down if the assessor lowered home values in our community?
Not necessarily. To illustrate how the levy affects your assessment we'll look at Badgertown; a community of two. Each resident owns a house valued at $100,000. Badgertown's tax levy is $2,000; the amount needed to cover its expenses. Since each resident owns 50% of the total property, they each pay 50% of the levy giving them each a tax bill of $1,000.
If property values in Badgertown go up 10%, then each property is assessed at $110,000. The amount they pay in taxes, however, remains the same. Each resident still owns 50% of the total property in Badgertown and must pay 50% of the $2,000 tax levy or $1,000. And what if values start dropping? Residents' property might drop to $80,000 each but because they each still own 50% of the property, and Badgertown still needs to collect $2,000, they will continue to see a $1,000 property tax bill.
Please take note of the key word in that Q. and A.: levy.
The levy is the amount of spending by a municipality. So if the levy stays the same or goes up, the municipality has to find ways to cover costs, and when assessments go down, the likely alternative is to make up the difference by increasing taxes.
Mayor Tom Taylor, his budget team, and Franklin alderman like to focus on the tax rate, even comparing ours to those in other surrounding suburbs. God, how I wish they wouldn’t do that. The tax rate is completely meaningless, a point I’ve blogged about repeatedly. It’s the levy that’s critical.
City of Franklin officials either don’t get it about the levy, or they do get it and refuse to acknowledge, hoping and assuming you won’t notice.
This past year I challenged City Hall to avoid a property tax increase. And commendably, they did just that, freezing taxes. Because the School Board jacked up taxes by a lot, overall tax bills went up.
As we enter 2014, note to tax and spenders
Numbers I’ve crunched show high taxes helped kill Detroit, and Milwaukee is not far behind. But this is no longer just an urban dilemma.
NOTE: Read and apprehend very carefully you suburban tax and spenders.
ABC News reports on startling research done by the Brookings Institution that the greatest-growing poor populations in America aren’t in the cities. Not at all, suburbanites. They’re right in your back yard. The crummy economy, high unemployment, foreclosures are no longer off-limits in the suburbs.
I blog about this in the hopes it will have some impact on the powerful tax and spenders in Franklin and elsewhere in Wisconsin when next year they engage in their process of cranking out their annual budgets.
Please be cognizant of what’s happening in taxpayer America. Times have radically changed. The people in that beautiful house in that beautiful subdivision with that beautiful family and beautiful landscaping and beautiful picket fence could be struggling mightily.
Consider the people you work for as you craft your budgets.
Give your suburban taxpayers a break.
And maybe stop by the library, too.
THE TOP 10 FRANKLIN STORIES OF 2013
1) FRANKLIN TAXPAYERS REVOLT
2) TOM TAYLOR DECIDES NOT TO RUN
3) WE LOSE MEIJER, BUT GAIN THE ROCK
4) CITY POINTS FINGER AT $CHOOL$...RIGHTFULLY SO
5) FISCAL FOLLIES AT FRANKLIN SCHOOLS
6) HUGHES HITS 800
7) FRANKLIN SABERS GO TO STATE
8) THE FIGHT LED BY FRANKLIN NEVER ENDS
9) TURN OFF THOSE DAMN LIGHTS!
10) I TAWT I TAW A PUDDY-TAT