Wisconsin average school tax levy has highest increase since 2009; taxpayers may see higher bill

Many people in La Crosse are opening up their tax bills to find an increase. County officials say there are many reasons why.

One reason is that more of that money is being used to help fund schools. The average tax levy for schools in the state of Wisconsin grew by 4.5 % in 2019 according to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue. That levy is the amount of local property taxes that are used to fund schools.

The reason for the increase is due to the new state budget and referendums that were passed throughout the state.

La Crosse County Administrator Steve O’Malley said homes within the county were reassessed this year and may have gone up in value.

“Some homes are paying less of school and county taxes and some homes are paying much more because of the increase in value assessed for their property,” O’Malley said.

There are several reasons why property taxes may increase, but one of the reasons is because the Wisconsin School tax levy rose by its highest percentage since 2009.

“It has to do with the state budget and whether your particular district has passed a referendum,” said Troy Gunderson, superintendent of the West Salem School District.

Former Gov. Scott Walker’s administration froze the amount of property taxes that were going to help pay for school districts. Gov. Tony Evers’ budget lifted that freeze.

“In layman’s terms that allows people to raise taxes by 175 dollars per student,” Gunderson said.

In total, the tax levy climbed from $4.99 billion to $5.21 billion this year.

Gunderson said typically a third of the funding for local school districts comes from property taxes. However, the number of people pay varies from community to community. It’s based largely on the value of homes in that district.

“There are places where all of their budget comes from their property taxes because they are so property-rich that they don’t get any aid,” Gunderson said.

Wisconsin’s current school tax levy is not new. It grew by 4.5 percent or more eight times between 2000 and 2009. Gunderson said the way Wisconsin funds schools helps ensure that small communities have the same access to quality education as a larger district.

“It has to be about places like Cashton, and New Lisbon, Melrose and Whitehall,” Gunderson said. “These places are important to our state, and we have to ensure that the children who live there get the same break that they do in other places.”

Gunderson says another reason for tax increases is because of the state’s school voucher program. The program allows students to receive aid to go to a private school. The amount of money West Salem is paying for students with vouchers climbed from $80,000 to $260,000 since last year.

That means if a home is valued at around $300,000 that homeowner would pay an extra $50 in taxes to help fund the program. Tax information is public information and can be found on the La Crosse County website.

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