Damakant Jayshi

Residents in Wausau and throughout Marathon County will soon have a clearer picture of their annual tax bill as budget discussions are underway and public hearings are set.

So far, it appears taxes will increase.

The Marathon County Board of Supervisors will be holding a public hearing on Thursday on the county’s 2024 budget that proposes a levy of $57,954,347 and a tax rate of $3.99 per $1,000 of equalized value of property.

The Finance Committee of the City of Wausau, meanwhile, has proposed $9.40 per $1,000 of equalized value. The public hearing for the Wausau 2024 budget is likely to be held on Nov. 7. The Wausau School District, another tax-collecting entity, has adopted its annual budget, with a mill rate of $8.83 per $1,000 of equalized value.

Marathon County Administrator Lance Leonhard told Wausau Pilot & Review that the proposed “tax rate is a reduction of $0.20 from the 2023 rate of $4.19, a 4.8% reduction.”

The administrator has already formally submitted his budget proposal to the county’ Human Resources, Finance, and Property Committee, which is collecting feedback and suggestions from other committees and supervisors.

One notable feature of the proposed county budget yet again this year is that while the tax levy would increase – because of the increase in property value – the proposed tax rate is going down compared to 2023 and prior years. In 2024, the equalized value for apportionment of all the properties in Marathon County is $14,512,194,600, an increase of $1,438,025,000, an approximate increase of 11.00% over 2023.

In his 2024 budget message to the county board, Leonhard wrote: “Thus, you can say the 2024 budget proposal, compared to 2023, cuts taxes if you focus on the tax rate or you can say that it increases taxes if you focus on the overall amount of tax levy collected. Both are true.”

Some of these figures could change when the Board of Supervisors vote to finalize the budget next week.

Speaking of the impact on average individual homeowner in the county, Administrator Leonhard told this newspaper that if the homeowner experiences a significant increase in taxable home value, they may see an increase in overall tax bill. That’s why, despite a lower tax rate, the increase in property value will most likely increase the property tax bill.

Wausau committee recommends a tax hike

The City of Wausau is moving toward finalizing its budget for 2024, with a proposed tax rate of $9.40 per $1,000 of equalized value of property. The equalized value has been estimated at $4,030,170,800, an increase of about 9.5% since last year.

However, based on assessed value, the proposed tax rate per $1,000 would be $10.88, an increase of 28 cents from last year’s budget. The assessed value for 2024 budget is $3,361,549,800, a rise of 2.99% from last year.

Valuing property in Wisconsin relies on assessed and equalized values.

Assessed value of properties is determined by the municipal assessor on Jan. 1 in any given year and the equalized value is an assessment from the state Department of Revenue after applying an adjustment factor to the assessed value, according to an explainer from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.

The Wausau Finance Committee held a series of discussions on the budget, the fourth of which was held on Oct. 30.

During a discussion on the 2024 budget on Monday, Finance Director Maryanne Groat said the statement of assessment came in slightly higher than she had estimated. “I estimated $3,322,823,667 and it came in at 3,361,549,800 – more than I anticipated.”

Neither Groat nor Finance Committee Chair Lisa Rasmussen responded to questions on the impact on the property owners and residents in the city.

The mayor, meanwhile, has said the city has no choice but raise taxes.

In a letter to the residents of the city, the members of the Common Council and the Finance Committee attached with the 2024 budget document, Mayor Katie Rosenberg said the city would have to raise revenue through an increase in property taxes if it were “to maintain the same level of City services as the past year.” The mayor cited inflation, maintaining competitive wages, and aging infrastructure as reasons for “upward pressure on costs.”

“As you know, property taxes and state aid are the top revenue sources the City has to work with to fund our annual budget,” the mayor wrote. “This year, after years of struggle, the legislature finally increased their contributions to local government through the Shared Revenue program. We are thrilled that our shared revenue increased by just over $1 million – but it’s not a magic bullet.”

On Monday, the Finance Committee approved Wausau’s budget plan by a vote of 4-1, with Alder Doug Diny voting no.

Wausau School District adopts its 2024 budget, settles on $8.83 per $1,000

The Wausau School Board adopted the budget on Oct. 23, approving a mill rate of $8.83 per $1,000 of equalized value. The 2023-24 tax levy is $49,591,892.

The estimated total revenue for all funds in the WSD is $178,640,090. Of this, the total for the General and Special Education funds is $126,369,320.

According to district officials, “the average tax bill from the Wausau School District mill rate on a $200,000 home would be $1,766 which is a decrease of $106.”

The total tax rate would also include entities other than the Wausau School District.

[For the City of Wausau’s proposed budget document, click here. For the Marathon County’s budget proposal, click here.]