Understanding your Wausau taxes, and how they're going up
Your taxes are going up, TIF districts might not close on time, but also you might be a little less likely to get a parking ticket.
UPDATE: I edited a typo in the headline.
I always think of the phrase “burying the lede” every time I listen to Wausau’s budget presentation. What do I mean? Because the main thing I think journalists as well as taxpayers care about boils down to this question: how much are taxes going up?
In my first year as a cub reporter, I saw that the village of Plover (Portage County) was holding a public hearing on its budget and taxes. I thought, hey, taxes always get people riled up. Surely there will be something to cover.
No one from the public showed up.
Why? The then-village administrator Dan Mahoney explained it to me (BTW, he did a brief stint as the village administrator in Kronenwetter on an interim basis): As long as taxes don’t go up, no one cares.
Well, that’s not the case in Wausau this year. Tax rates in the city are set to increase by $0.33 per $1,000. So that means if you own a home valued at $200,000, the city portion of your tax bill will increase by $66. Equalized values make it more complicated, and of course that’s only the city’s portion. The state, county, school district and technical school district all have their own taxing entities. And they go up and down or remain flat every year.
But that’s not the end of it. City departments in Wausau asked for budgetary increases that would have meant another $0.16 in mill rate (the “per $1,000 of value” stat we mentioned earlier.
The city’s Finance Committee in one of its recent budget hearings cut that down to $0.08. So $0.41 total mill rate, or an additional $82 for that owner of a home assessed at exactly $200,000. (The round number makes for easy match, and journalists like easy math.)
Where is that money going? A number of things, but here are some of the bigger ones:
Shared admin between the police and fire departments: As mentioned in our story about YouTubers flooding the police department with records requests, the police are falling behind and want an added person to help them catch up — and the position would be shared with the fire department since their only front desk person has no backup.
Assistant in the Economic Development Department: This person would, among other things, help out with the public input sessions, which were used on Thomas Street recently. They include child care and interpretation to maximize the number of people who can participate.
Adding street crew: The public works department would like additional street crew, who could help with snow plowing in the winter. A major complaint the city gets is that they don’t plow fast enough. A lot of that is because they’re understaffed.
Adding employees is always expensive, especially since they’re recurring costs. One way to minimize the costs up front is all three department heads agreed to have those staff members not start until April, thus saving on some salary.
Saving on Wausau parking
One interesting thing that almost could be its own story is the city’s parking situation. Finance Director Maryanne Groat roughly a year ago mentioned that the city post-pandemic was actually losing money on parking.
Why? One reason is that part of the city’s new parking policy is that first-time offenders get a warning first. And that resets every year.
Groat said that “this year” (assuming that meant year-to-date) parking officers and others issued 7,421 tickets - but of those, only 2,185 came with a fine.
Where did that policy come from? The city before the pandemic revised its parking plan. Downtown advocates wanted fewer people punished for parking downtown, since that’s a deterrent from people coming to the River District to shop, eat and otherwise patronize the businesses there. And, with new electronic parking systems, there might be confusing as people learn how to use them. So the new plan incorporated that policy.
And with downtown still struggling (though with some signs of life returning recently), officials aren’t necessarily keen on changing policies that might keep more people away.
So, instead, Police Chief Matt Barnes proposed eliminating one of the parking patrol positions. That’s easy to do right now because one of them is vacant anyway. And, both of the parking patrol cars are getting close to needing to be replaced. So that will save a lot of expense, since it appears they’re actually losing money having parking enforcement.
Interestingly, Barnes explains, police in three nights last winter made $45,000 issuing tickets to those who keep their cars parked on the road during a snow emergency. At $100 a pop, that really adds up.
What about TIF?
Now, the TIF discussion is where things get really interesting, especially what they reveal about affordable housing projects in Wausau and whether certain district will actually close.
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