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[District 4 news] Why are our taxes so high? [81]

posted Jan 19, 2011, 6:43 AM by Oak Meadow Administration

This is the latest in a series of occasional newsletters on topics that may be of interest to Fitchburg District 4 residents.

Beginning on December 15, City of Fitchburg staff and elected officials received many inquiries with the question above, or the related "Why did our taxes go up so much?"


The short answer to both questions is "the library".


In approving the bonding for the library, Fitchburg voters, and subsequently the Common Council, approved a significant transfer of services from the County to the City.  In addition to changing the jurisdiction responsible, the level and cost of service have significantly increased.  This time next year, we'll have a 30,000+-square-foot library building near the geographic and population centers of the City, open more than 60 hours/week, run by the equivalent of nearly 20 full-time staff members.  This service is budgeted for $1.8 million for operations and $800,000 for debt service for 2011.

Previously, we had about 5.5 hours of bookmobile service a week, with two staff members on board.  We also had the privilege of borrowing at any of the other public libraries in the County, a privilege that will continue.


Not every citizen wanted the city to take the leap of operating its own library, but a majority did.  While there were differences of opinion on how much was enough, we were seriously constrained by Dane County library standards, which specify the levels of service necessary for exemption from the County library tax.  That tax, $780,000 the last year we paid it, would have been about $900,000 this year.


Back to the tax bill:  The City's Web site shows a 17.77% increase in the Fitchburg portion of the tax for a fictitious home of "average"

assessed value (which decreased from $269,400 to 265,100) last year.

Your tax bill shows the change for your own property, which depends its specific change in assessment.


I find it useful to separate the increase into that due to the library, and that needed to pay for continuing operations.  Adding library operations and debt service together for a "library" component and all other costs together for a "cost to continue" component, of the 17.7% increase in the City tax, 15.1% is due to taking on library service, and 2.6% is due to the cost to continue other services.  In addition, we need to consider the effect on the County tax levy, which decreased by 5.3% in Fitchburg because of the transfer of library service to the City.  County-wide, the County tax levy increased 2.9%, so Fitchburg's effective decrease from dropping the county library tax is 8.2%.


With respect to the 2.6% increase due to continuing operations:  Each and every Common Council member and City staffer understands that any increase is too much, especially for residents on fixed incomes, and we constantly work to find savings that balance the cost increases we can't control (e.g., energy, health insurance for employees).  Assertions that taxes are too high reinforce this knowledge, but are not otherwise very useful.


Instead, please consider making suggestions for delivering existing services better and cheaper, and participate in city efforts to determine what services it should offer (e.g., by surveys, experiments, or public hearings before relevant commissions).


Money is spent, and your input is valuable, throughout the year, not just when we work on the budget, or when property tax assessments and bills are mailed.  Please keep in mind that the taxes you pay in January and July fund services throughout the year, and let us know how City government can serve you better, whenever you have an idea.


This message was condensed from a much longer one that I felt that few people would read.  If you *are* interested in reading more on this subject, see the longer version at


If you know others who would be interested in District 4 News, or if you would like to be removed from the list, please send a quick note to me at the address below.



Steve Arnold, Fitchburg Alder, District 4, Seat 7 2530 Targhee Street, Fitchburg, Wisconsin  53711-5491 Telephone +1 608 278 7700 · Facsimile +1 608 278 7701 Steve.Arnold@Fitchburg.WI.US · http://Arnold.US Become a supporter: like