Study highlights referendums to exceed property tax limits

A new report from the Wisconsin Policy Forum shows 11 communities passed binding referendums in the midterm election to exceed state-imposed property tax limits.

The report found at least 15 communities around the state held referendums to allow cities, villages, towns, or counties to exceed property tax levy limits. Report authors say that vote marked the highest number of such referendums on the ballot since 2005, when the levy limits were enacted.

Current law restricts municipalities and counties from raising their levies by more than the rate of net new construction, unless voters approve a referendum to do so, according to WPF.

Most of the communities where levy limit questions were asked are located in eastern and southeastern Wisconsin, the report shows.

Eleven governments asked about exceeding levy limits for specific reasons, like street funding, public safety, and in one case, a new aquatic center. Two counties had referendums on exceeding levy limits to support county health care facilities.

The local property tax increases related to these referendums will be compounded by increases linked to school district funding, the report shows. In the midterm election, voters in 57 school districts approved a record $1.37 billion in school district spending, according to a previous report from WPF.

“Between borrowing for capital projects and voting to exceed state revenue limits for operations, these decisions will effectively raise local property taxes for years to come,” report authors said.

The WPF analysis found just over 10 percent of cities and villages in the state had annual new construction rates of 2 percent or more between 2012 and 2016. Just under one-third averaged 0.5 percent or less.

The report also includes a short analysis of the advisory referendums on the “dark store” issue, which found voters approve calling on the state to outlaw certain property tax assessment practices.

Report authors say it’s uncertain whether the results of this referendum will lead to any meaningful change. Gov.-elect Tony Evers has said he opposes “dark store” assessments, but Republican legislative leaders have opposed previous efforts to change the law.

See the full report:

–By Alex Moe