Tax bills are arriving

We’re in the middle of December now, and Christmas is just around the corner. This week we’re also getting a not so subtle reminder that the year is coming to a close very soon — the arrival of the property tax bills.

The property tax bills are typically mailed to property owners the first week of December but this year a couple small issues relating to differences in the way Dodge and Jefferson counties handle their tax bill information that is presented to the city, led to a small delay.

We stopped by city hall this week and visited briefly with Elissa Friedl, the city clerk, who said the bills were completed by the printer at end of last week and then were mailed.

To our knowledge the bills didn’t arrive on Wednesday (at least not at our home!), and that means they could arrive on Thursday or today as you’re reading this column.

Elissa did provide detailed breakdown of the taxes this year and we’ll share a little of that information here.

First of all, yes property taxes are higher this year, but the increase is not a large amount. The rate is up by 3.7 percent or 90.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation on the Jefferson County side of the city, and by 2.7 percent or 69.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The net tax rate in Jefferson County is $25.10 and for property in Dodge County the rate is $26.27. Both of those numbers are per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Four taxing bodies comprise the tax bills. They are the county, city, vocational school district and the Watertown Unified School District.

The net tax rate in Jefferson County is typically a bit lower than the net tax rate for those of us who live in Dodge County and virtually all of that can be attributed to a higher rate for county service in Dodge County. The new tax rate for Jefferson County government is $4.44 and in Dodge County is it $5.73, both per $1,000 of assessed valuation. The rate for Jefferson County government edged up by six tenths of one percent while the rate for Dodge County government was down by seventh tenths of one percent. In recent years the gap between the two counties has narrowed and that continues to be the case this year.

The Watertown school district tax rate showed the biggest increase on the bills this year, with the rate up by 5.4 percent in the Jefferson County portion and 4.7 percent in the Dodge County portion of the city. The rate to fund the school district is about $10.50 per $1,000 of assessed value.

The rate needed to fund city government is up 4 percent on the Jefferson County side and by 3.2 percent on the Dodge County side. The cost is about $10.75 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The vocational school district taxes are the smallest of the four taxing bodies. That rate in both Dodge and Jefferson County portions of the city is about $1.03 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, an increase of 2.4 percent on the Jefferson County side and 1.6 percent on the Dodge County side.

The property tax is the primary way these local governments get their funding. All totaled property tax payers in Watertown will spend $34,331,045.15 in 2020 to fund these governments. In addition to property taxes, these governments are also recipients of various forms of state and federal aids, fees, and other sources of revenue, but the property tax remains one of the biggest parts.

Almost immediately people will begin paying their property taxes and if you come at the right time, you’re likely to be in a line waiting to make the payments. Payments for city property taxes are made at the clerk’s office at the municipal building.

A lot of people like to have those bills paid by the end of 2019 so they can be deducted on their income taxes while others prefer to use the “installment method” whereby one-third of the total tax bill is due by Jan. 31, April 30, and July 31, 2020.

Many people complain about their taxes, but in reality citizens receive a lot of benefits and services for their dollars spent.

And, it’s always good to keep in mind that when comparing property taxes locally or statewide, be sure you are comparing “apples to apples.”

For example, even with Wisconsin’s 5 percent sales tax plus one-half of one percent optional for a county sales tax, this is much lower than most states.

As an example, in Tennessee, a state that touts its lower property taxes, the state sales tax is 7.0 percent. Add to that a local option sales tax of up to 2.75 percent and you can see the disparity. Over a year’s worth of purchases, the extra sales tax of up to 4.75 percent can be a significant amount.

Tennessee was listed as having the highest state sales tax at up to 9.47 percent. Following close behind were Louisiana at 9.45 percent, Arkansas 9.43, Washington 9.17 percent and Alabama 9.14 percent.

So, there you are. When you analyze your property tax bill that should be in your mailbox yet this week, keep in mind all the services you receive for the money!

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