By Shereen Siewert

Mayor Robert Mielke publicly announced on Monday that property taxes for 2020 are decreasing in Wausau, statements made six days after Finance Director MaryAnne Groat stated that property taxes will increase.

In a Nov. 11 interview on WSAU, Mielke said this will mark the third straight year that property taxes have decreased under his administration. Mielke also claimed the “dip” would help homeowners who will be hit by increases in water and sewer bills to help pay for planned $101 million upgrades in the city’s sewer and water systems.

But Mielke’s statements contradicts those made by Groat just last week. In a WSAU YouTube video posted online, Groat said the “status quo” budget will mean homeowners in Wausau will see a $23 increase for the average $100,000 home, or about $2 per month. That amount accounts only for Wausau’s portion of property tax bills.

In response to an email from Wausau Pilot and Review asking for clarification on his statements, Mielke said “The explanation would be that technically this year, while there is a small tax increase, but it is less than what we have had the previous few years.”

Groat described the budget as a “cost to continue” plan. The city’s greatest expenses are in payroll, though city officials successfully negotiated a lower health insurance rate for 2020, she said. Increases are projected in the parks department budget due to maintenance expenses for JoJo’s Jungle and Riverfront Park.

Planned. upgrades to Wausau’s drinking and wastewater treatment facilities will increase expenses for homeowners in 2020 and will likely push the city’s debt to to more than $208 million, a jump of more than 300 percent since 2014, according to city figures. Wausau aims to borrow funds in 2020 for the projects, which will allow the current facilities to meet new, stricter phosphorous and capacity requirements while improving safety, reliability and performance, officials said.

The budget authorizes $121 million in new revenue bonds in 2020 to replace the water and wastewater treatment plants. That will result in approximately $8 million in new annual debt service payments for the utilities beginning in 2021. Since the revenue for the combined utilities is currently $11.5 million per year, adding $8 million in additional expenses will require a substantial rate increase.

User fees have already increased in Wausau, with at least one additional increase planned. The first sewer rate hike, already implemented, will cost the average homeowner about $100 per year, according to a public notice issued in October. City officials say the first increase will cost an average residential user $8.59 per month, which calculates to a $25.76 increase in the average quarterly bill. The yet-to-be determined second rate increase, proposed for 2020, will depend on the final design and engineering estimate for the project, Lindman said in October.

According to city documents, general levy spending is going up 5.9 percent, more than twice the rate of inflation.

A public hearing on the proposed 2020 budget is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 507 Grant St., Wausau. See the full budget proposal in the public meeting packet here.