With a little luck, Eau Claire homeowners may see a slightly smaller number on property tax bills that arrive next week.
A banner year for the Wisconsin Lottery helped boost a credit that appears on property tax bills, which should cut the bottom line for a typical Eau Claire homeowner by about $30.
But that assumes a home that increased in value by the 16 percent average that Eau Claire properties rose by in this year’s citywide revaluation. Depending on the neighborhood, size of the house and other attributes, houses will increase in value more or less than the average. Homeowners were informed of their property’s new value in letters mailed out in late September by the city assessor’s office.
Scratch ticket sales are up over the previous year and a series of large jackpots contributed to the boost in people playing the lottery, according to Patty Mayers, communications director for both the Wisconsin Lottery and state Department of Revenue.
Statewide, the lottery will give almost $236.5 million in property tax relief to homeowners, up from $172.1 million last year.
This is the biggest overall tax break provided by the lottery since it began in 1992, according to state Department of Revenue records. But the statewide $160 average credit per homeowner is shy of the record set in 1993 at $167.
The lottery credit for homes within the Eau Claire school district was $111 last year but is rising to $145 for 2019.
That turned out to be the deciding factor for the discount for a hypothetical average Eau Claire home as changes in property taxes by schools and local governments mostly canceled each other out.
School down, others up
A decrease in property taxes going toward Eau Claire schools offset increases for the county and city governments and Chippewa Valley Technical Colleges.
With a higher contribution from the state government to the Eau Claire school district, there will be fewer property taxes going to the local K-12 public schools.
“When state aid goes up, your levy goes down,” said Abby Johnson, the district’s executive director of business.
An enrollment increase of 93 students contributed toward the increase in state aid, she said.
The school district collected $54 million from property taxpayers last year, but that will decline to $52.6 million next year.
The Eau Claire County government’s property tax levy is rising by 5½ percent next year — going from $32.2 million to slightly over $34 million. The state allows local governments to increase their levies used to pay for day-to-day operational expenses by the amount of net new construction, which was 2.8 percent in Eau Claire County — a large figure in recent years. Additional new levy dollars are attributed to borrowing for capital expenses, which is not subject to the same state limits.
Stella Pagonis, chairwoman of the county’s Finance and Budget Committee, said the county has worked to rein in borrowing, but there were rural highway and courthouse security projects that need to be done.
“We didn’t get it down by the amount that we’d hoped because we were so behind on so many things,” she said.
Some of the projects planned next year add one-time costs but are intended to have long-term savings, Pagonis said, noting the county will replace light bulbs in the jail with energy-saving LED lights.
Pagonis said the county’s current level of borrowing is unsustainable and leaders don’t want to continue it. One measure the county is taking to help reduce its reliance to pay for borrowed funds for paving roads is instituting a new fee.
The county is starting a $30 vehicle registration fee — commonly called a wheel tax — on vehicles kept in the county next year, which is intended to raise about $2 million annually that will go toward rural highway projects.
Eau Claire’s city government is increasing its property tax levy from $41.7 million this year to almost $42.5 million in 2019.
CVTC’s property tax levy is rising from $20.4 million to $20.9 million.
All tax rates in Eau Claire fell significantly — even for entities collecting more in overall taxes — primarily due to the city’s rise in valuation.
The Leader-Telegram’s comparison of last year’s tax bill to those coming out next week incorporated the property value change to accurately portray the changing price tag for average homes. To do this, the tax bill totals for 2018 were recalculated using property values 16 percent lower than homes now assessed by the city at $150,000, $175,000 and $200,000.
Revaluation of property within Eau Claire was a main factor in reducing tax rates charged for city and county government, public schools and the local technical college.
The Eau Claire County Treasurer’s office printed out tax bills for Eau Claire city residents this week and intends to put them in the mail Monday.
Property taxes are due by the end of January, or can be paid in two halves — due Jan. 31 and July 31.