More than half of the 55 different taxing areas in La Crosse County lowered their property tax rates in 2014.
So, taxes should be down in those 36 areas, right? Not necessarily.
The tax rate for town of Shelby residents within the West Salem School District, for example, dropped by almost 11 percent from the previous year, the biggest change in the county. But that primarily was due to a comprehensive re-valuation in 2014, something town officials said hadn’t been done in years.
So while some town residents could see a lower tax bill if their property value stayed relatively the same, those who have done significant home improvements or built new might have a corresponding bump in taxes as well.
It’s why putting off a reassessment can yield short-term benefits but makes for more sticker shock when finally done.
West Salem, too, did a complete reassessment in 2014, its first in five years. But since state law mandates the tax levy can’t rise past the value of new construction, that revaluation resulted in a reduction in the tax rate – in West Salem’s case, by 8 percent.
“The amount was spread out more evenly,” village Administrator Teresa Schnitzler said.
Not that the town and village wouldn’t have welcomed the extra revenue. Both Shelby and West Salem saw referendums for additional funding fail in 2012 and 2014, respectively.
It has meant prioritizing projects and letting some problems go unaddressed, some streets and equipment deteriorate, Schnitzler said.
“If we have an emergency,” she said, “I guess we’ll borrow.” But for now, there are no plans to try the referendum again.
Shelby is trying to address its needs “intellegently … making some adjustments,” town Chairman Tim Candahl said.
“The roads are our main concern,” Candahl said.
County taxpayers also benefited from Gov. Scott Walker’s decision to provide millions in state funding to technical colleges in 2015 to shift some of the burden away from local property tax rolls.
While La Crosse residents within the La Crosse School District continue to have the highest tax rate in the county at $29.04 per $1,000 of property value, that’s almost 3 percent less than in 2013. Sixteen of the 55 taxing areas in the county have a rate that tops $20.
The lowest rate is $14.82 per $1,000 in the town of Medary, for those living within the Onalaska School District.