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Delivering on Property Tax Relief

A Column of Personal Opinion by State Senator Sheila Harsdorf

Property taxes remain one of the top issues for Wisconsin homeowners and small businesses, as the annual property tax bill represents a significant expenditure on household checkbooks and entrepreneurs’ balance sheets.

While many pay property taxes through an escrow account or monthly savings, unexpected changes in property tax bills often prove challenging for homeowners and small business owners in these times of tight budgets. In response to the concerns I have heard from many area residents over the years, providing property tax relief continues to be one of my top priorities.

Prior to the change in control of state government in 2011, the trend of property tax increases was at an unsustainable level for many Wisconsin residents as property taxes had increased by 27% over the prior decade. Particularly for working families, seniors, and others on fixed incomes, property taxes were accounting for greater portions of family budgets and tax increases meant cuts and belt-tightening at home. The impact of continually rising property tax bills meant less money for groceries and clothes, reduced savings, and delayed repairs or improvements.

In 2010, after several years of tax increases, the median property tax bill in Wisconsin was $2,963. Had that trend of tax increases continued, the median property tax bill would have risen to over $3,300 in 2016. These increases were unacceptable to me and that is why I have supported reforms that have provided tax relief to property owners. The outcome of these reforms are that property taxes will be reduced each of the six years since 2011 due to legislation enacted by the State Legislature.

As a result of our efforts to pass property tax relief, the median property tax bill in 2016 is projected to be $2,828. This figure is $135 less than what the median property tax bill was in 2010 and represents real savings for seniors and families that keeps more of your hard-earned money in your pocketbook. Overall, property taxes have fallen by 4.4% for a typical Wisconsin homeowner since 2010.

Compared to the trendline under the prior administration, property taxes will be approximately $500 less in 2016 than if the expected increases had taken effect, with the cumulative savings over the past six years estimated to be over $1,700. Using another measure, a recent analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance found that property taxes as a share of personal income has now dropped to 3.6%, the lowest level seen since 1946.

It is important to note that the effect of local referenda and property improvements also have impacts on actual property tax bills. As the figures above relate to a property taxpayer in the state with a median valued home, individual property owners will see variations depending on local factors and property values.

While our work to control spending has been successful in holding down property tax increases, it is important that we continue to promote growth and economic development as a means to broaden the property tax base. Increasing the value of property through a growth and prosperity agenda will not only help increase job opportunities, but will also help in distributing the property tax burden and holding down property taxes. I look forward to continuing to advance this agenda as the legislative session continues.

Please feel free to contact me by calling my office at 1-800-862-1092 or 608-266-7745 or by sending me an e-mail at