School Tax Rates Going Down, Values Increasing

Rising property values will result in lower school tax rates, but not necessarily tax savings for all property owners on their next tax bills.

Sturgeon Bay School Tax Rate Down

Sturgeon Bay school officials quickly adjusted the budget and tax levy at the end of October after waiting for Wisconsin Department of Education notification on funding. Officials learned in late October that poverty and low-income rates made the district eligible for aid, which helped to offset a limit to what the district could collect in local taxes.

“Here we are, literally more than a quarter of the way into the fiscal year, and we are able to pass the budget. But that’s the way it’s been done in Wisconsin for how long?” Superintendent Dan Tjernagel said to the school board.

Property owners living within the Sturgeon Bay School District will see the school tax rate decline per $1,000 of assessed valuation from $11.69 to $10.69. That’s a decrease of about $100 per $100,000 in taxable value, according to district business manager Jacob Holtz. 

The Sturgeon Bay schools’ total levy, or the amount it will collect from taxpayers, is declining by about $104,000 total, Holtz said. However, in late October, the state informed the district that it would provide extra money in equalization aid, which will offset that decrease.

“Even though we have more than half of our students living in poverty, we are viewed as being property rich,” Holtz said.

The Sturgeon Bay district has a property-tax revenue limit of about $12,000 per student, Holtz said. By comparison, the Gibraltar district, which benefits from taxing many unoccupied vacation homes and seasonal houses, has a revenue limit of about $22,000 per student.

Sturgeon Bay schools’ $18 million budget shows a deficit of $627,000, Holtz said, but that amount was set aside in the previous year’s budget to pay for some computer and technology equipment. The items arrived late because of supply-chain issues. 

“It appears like we’re way overspending,” Holtz said, but “we’re expecting, basically, a $4,000 positive balance at the end of the year.”

Rising Property Values Help Southern Door Pay Debt

Southern Door School District residents will pay 8 cents less, or $8.70, per $1,000 in taxable property value to the pre-K–12 district in 2022 over 2021.

The district had a proposed tax levy of $11.9 million as of the September annual meeting, but on Oct. 15, district officials learned that districtwide taxable property values had increased by about $160 million from last year to $1.37 billion this year. On Oct. 18, the board approved a levy of $14.8 million. 

That presented the district with an opportunity to pay off some large expenses without affecting taxpayers. Through the practice of defeasance, the district can use the additional funds to make early payments to get further ahead on school-construction and renovation debt, said district business manager Jason Melotte. He has just arrived at Southern Door after serving as the Algoma schools’ business manager.

Gibraltar Tax Less Than Half the Tax of Neighboring Districts

The Gibraltar district continues to rely almost entirely on local property-tax revenue, but it continues to have one of the lowest tax rates in the state.

Taxpayers will see an increase of 13 cents per $100,000 of property value, as the rate increased from $3.29 to $3.42. The district will use more than $970,000 to pay down debt. The district budget anticipates a $1 million surplus in revenue: The budget is expected to be $13.7 million, compared with $14.74 million in total revenues.

Sevastopol ‘Has More Money behind Each Student’

Sevastopol School District’s taxable property values increased from $1.53 billion last year to $1.7 billion this October, which amounts to about $3.1 million in tax base per student in the district. Sevastopol will collect $10.9 million in local property taxes.

“We have more money behind each student,” Superintendent Kyle Luedtke said.

Those property values make the district appear wealthy by state standards, so Sevastopol will receive only $5,587 this school year in state aid. Last year’s state aid amounted to about $6,000.

Property owners will see their tax rates decline from $6.62 per $1,000 of taxable value to $6.42. That’s due to both the districtwide value growth and the way the district structured debt payments on the almost-completed school construction and renovation project.

“We structured the debt for the building project so that the most expensive year was the first year,” Luedtke said.

Washington Island Gets a Boost

Washington Island property owners will see tax relief as the district decreases its request for local revenues by $200,000 because the district received an unbudgeted $200,000 in federal coronavirus-relief funds in spring 2021.

Originally, the updated equalized land of $326 million in the Town of Washington would have resulted in a mill rate of $4.80 per $1,000 in taxable value. Because the district will use the federal funds to allow a one-year decrease in local taxes from a referendum, the rate will be $4.18: a 62-cent decrease from the previous year. The district is seeking 8.42% percent less than last year in total revenue from local taxpayers.