An editorial in the Aug. 14 Tomahawk Leader:
Maybe not this year or the next, but when the day arrives when a Tomahawk or Merrill police officer doesn’t respond to your 911-emergency call, you might stop to think, “Is this state-mandated levy cap on municipalities a good idea?”
Depending on your medical condition, you likely won’t beg the question, but a recent study conducted by the University of Wisconsin has, and it explains why that officer never showed up at your door.
Before the alarming news, the good news is Lincoln County residents are not in this alone. Wisconsin remains in the top quartile of states where property taxes are measured on either a per capita or per $1,000 of personal income basis. See, every taxpaying Wisconsinite is taking it in the gut.
To remedy this embarrassing blemish, the state mandated a 2 percent levy cap on municipalities two years ago. The solution, give local governments a placebo and check back in a few years to see what happens. Add in some lifelines: communities can either grow, since the levy rate can be adjusted to the growth rate in property values from new construction, or communities can go to referendum – the same type referendum that school districts regularly get voted down. Good thing the new construction market is fairing well these days, right?
Municipalities have other options. They can get rid of libraries, cut police officers, cut firefighters, cut public officials, but the most likely course of action to reduce fiscal stress is to delay capital and routine maintenance expenditures. The small things, like leaking sewers and potholes in the roads.
And once the wounds start to show, the wolves come out. Fiscal health of a local government directly affects its cost of borrowing money for capital projects. In addition, fiscal management and capacity are key indicators examined by bond rating agencies. Simply put, they kick you when you’re down.
But back to the good news, we’re not in this alone. The statewide study, to which some 200 Wisconsin communities replied, reveals that 49 percent reported their current revenue base is inadequate and more than 64 percent felt their fiscal condition in five years would be inadequate.
Heck, the bottom line is everyone loves paying less in property taxes. But at what cost are we willing to sacrifice that officer at the door?
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