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Menomonie School District Referendum Series - Are property taxes high in Dunn County?


This is the third in a series of articles about the upcoming school referendum. The first two articles focused on property taxes. Since the referendum requests additional money to increase the school tax, I felt it was important to understand all property tax components. Another reason I wanted to talk about property taxes is because for the almost 30 years I've lived in Menomonie, I've often heard complaints that property taxes in Dunn County are high. But is this really the case? This article will examine how property taxes in Dunn County compare to other states and surrounding counties.


If you have not read the first two articles, I would strongly encourage you to do so. Everything will make a lot more sense if you do. You can find the first one here and the second one here.


Sources used for this article include the Dunn County Treasurer's website, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website, the UW Extension website, and interviews with the City of Menomonie Administrator Eric Atkinson, Dunn County Manager Kristin Korpela, Dunn County Treasurer Sifia Jevne, assessor Randy Prochnow, and Dunn County Board Chair Kelly McCullough. These individuals are very knowledgeable about property taxes, and I appreciate that they were willing to take the time to share that knowledge with me. Other sources are linked throughout the article.


PROPERTY TAXES IN DUNN COUNTY ARE HIGH - OR ARE THEY?


Wisconsin compared to other states


Wisconsin does have high property taxes.


"Residential property taxes here (in Wisconsin) are high compared to other states due to Wisconsin's greater reliance on local governments to provide services, few local revenue options other than the property tax, and preferential treatment of residential property in other states." (Wisconsin Policy Forum


Several internet searches resulted in slight variations in Wisconsin's overall rank when it came to property taxes. Tax Foundation is the world's leading nonpartisan tax policy 501(c)(3) nonprofit and provides journalists, taxpayers, and policymakers with basic data on taxes and spending. According to their information, Wisconsin ranks 8th in property tax burden.



Living close to the Minnesota border, it is tempting to compare our property taxes to theirs, however that is not really a fair comparison. Minnesota may have lower property taxes, but property taxes are calculated differently there. For example, second homes - usually expensive lakefront homes - are taxed at a higher level. A better comparison would be the overall tax burden.


The below map ranks states in overall tax burden - from lower tax burden to higher tax burden - with Wisconsin coming in at 32 with Minnesota ranking higher at 39.




Dunn County compared to surrounding counties


Since this series of articles is about the upcoming school referendum, comparisons were made with homes in other Big Rivers Conference schools, representing Pierce, St. Croix, Barron, Chippewa, and Eau Claire counties.

 

A few things to know before looking at the chart:


  1. All properties were in a fair market value range between $395,700 (Eau Claire) and $401,200 (Chippewa).

  2. The property in River Falls is in Pierce County. Part of River Falls lies in St. Croix County, and part in Pierce County.

  3. The differences in the school taxes will be discussed in more detail in later articles. 

  4. The differences in the technical school tax are because some are CVTC, and some are Northwood Technical College (formerly WITC). CVTC has increased costs due to a referendum that was passed in 2020.



Property tax comparisons among Big Rivers schools

* This property is in a Lake District and has an additional tax which is included in the total


Net tax among the schools is very similar, but notice the difference when comparing the county, city, and school taxes. The City of Menomonie has the 3rd lowest tax behind Hudson and River Falls. Menomonie School District has the lowest school tax; the reasons for this will be discussed in future articles, as will the fact that districts with the highest school tax also receive the highest credits.


Looking at the county tax, Dunn County is definitely the highest. From my research into property taxes, I've concluded that there are two main reasons for this. Please note that these are my own conclusions. I did discuss them with some of the individuals referenced at the beginning of the article, and no one disagreed. 


Reason Number One - High Expenses


Roads - Dunn County ranks 8th in the state for county highway miles. Roads are very costly to maintain. The 2024 budget for the Highway Department is $20 million. The highway department has seen a 20%-40% increase in material costs over the past few years. A simple asphalt overlay costs $140,000 per mile. (This information came from the November 14, 2023, Board of Supervisors meeting - you can watch it here, and you can find the 2024 County Budget linked below.) 


Debt - Dunn County is still carrying debt from building The Neighbors of Dunn County and the renovation of the Government Center. While this debt does affect property taxes, please note that the county’s debt is quite low and is well below the allowed debt limit. (You can learn more about debt by watching this meeting.)



Reason Number Two - Low Equalized Value 


Equalized value is the fair market value of all of the property in a county that pays the county tax levy. Dunn County has a low equalized value and when you combine that with higher expenses (like maintaining a lot of road miles), taxes are going to be high. Eau Claire County ranks right behind Dunn in county highway miles, but they have a much higher equalized value, therefore they have more property to pay that expense.


Dunn County is a rural county with a low population, and equalized value goes hand in hand with population, as seen in the chart below. Also, Dunn County does not have the high-dollar lakefront property, specifically vacation homes, that other Wisconsin counties may have. 


Equalized values of nearby counties*

*Please note that the equalized value for Dunn County in the last article (the one used to calculate the county mill rate) differs from the number listed above. The numbers in the above chart include TIDS (tax incremental districts) and personal property taxes. To ensure this is an apples-to-apples comparison, all of the above numbers are pulled from the same report from the Wisconsin DOR.


Looking at this chart along with the chart comparing Big Rivers schools, note that the three counties with the highest county tax have the lowest equalized value and the lowest populations.   


Taxes now vs. taxes then


One last chart to look at - how property taxes have increased over time. Below are 13 years of property taxes for a home in the City of Menomonie. While the assessed value increased $34,900, and the fair market value increased $82,300, the net property tax only increased $32.42. There were some fluctuations, but taxes have not changed much. I would encourage everyone to check their own property tax history. You can find the information on the Dunn County Treasurer's website. Personally, my property taxes this year were $270 more than they were in 2011, an increase on average of $21 per year.


Property tax increase over 13 years - City of Menomonie property

  Note: the listed net tax does also include CVTC tax 


What about...


A couple of issues seem to come up repeatedly when discussing property taxes in Dunn County, and I would like to address those briefly.


The Neighbors of Dunn County (TNDC) 


In 2020, TNDC debt (from new construction in 2013) was restructured and rolled into the county's total debt (see the high expense section above). However, in terms of day-to-day operations, TNDC has covered its expenses and then some in all but two years - 2013 (the year they moved into the new building) and 2022. A few things happened in 2022 that accounted for the loss. First, a fair amount of COVID relief funding ended. Second, there were staffing issues due to the pandemic, and TNDC had significant agency staff costs. Finally, due to those staffing issues, NDC had to close two households because they couldn't staff them. (TNDC is made up of three separately licensed skilled nursing facilities.) 


There may be a loss in 2023 as well. However, one of the two closed households has reopened, and the State of Wisconsin has dramatically increased nursing home Medicaid rates. No deficit is expected in 2024.


UW Stout 


While UW Stout is exempt from property taxes, the State of Wisconsin provides annual payments to the City of Menomonie to reimburse for all or a portion of property tax-supported expenses incurred in providing services to UW Stout. The program intends to aid in reducing local property taxes by making an equitable contribution toward the cost of certain municipally provided services. 


Conclusion


So, are taxes in Dunn County high? Like so many things, the answer is relative. I'll leave readers to make their own conclusions.


If you do feel that your taxes are high, you may qualify for additional tax credits and/or assistance. Information can be found on the back of your tax bill. Below is information from the Wisconsin Department of Revenue website.


If you qualify, you may claim the tax credits listed below on your Wisconsin income tax return. To determine if you qualify, first review the applicable Wisconsin income tax return instructions and the common questions for these credits. If you have additional questions, contact the agency responsible for the credit.


Homestead Credit


Farmland Preservation Credit

Wisconsin Department of Agriculture Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) PO Box 8911, Madison, WI 53708-8911


Veterans and Surviving Spouses Property Tax Credit


Renter's and Homeowner's School Property Tax Credit

For more information, contact income@wisconsin.gov.


Are there other programs that help with paying property taxes? Yes.

The Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) provides property tax deferral loans for the elderly. For more information, contact WHEDA:PO Box 1728, Madison, WI 53701-1728, (800) 755-7835, Email - underwriting@wheda.com


_____________________


This concludes my look into property taxes for this series about the upcoming referendum. The next article will talk about revenue limits and referendums.


While all the information contained in this article is believed to be accurate, it is not guaranteed. The user should not rely solely on the information provided and should seek additional information from other sources. While some information was provided through interviews with individuals, any errors are my own.


Please feel free to share any comments or questions you may have about this article. You can send me a message HERE.


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