Upon further review, the city’s tax-rate increase is back to 2.7 percent.
Because of a “data keypunch error” by the city assessor, city residents will pay significantly more than the .7 percent increase that the city’s spending should have accounted for. Worse, that error will affect taxes for all jurisdictions for city taxpayers.
City administration had hoped to persuade state Department of Revenue officials to allow a correction, and it was presented as such at the Nov. 12 Committee of the Whole budget review meeting. That attempt was rejected, officials revealed before the Nov. 19 public hearing.
The result is an increase in city taxes of about $43 on an average ($272,000) home this year, moving the mill rate to $5.91 per $1,000 of assessed value. Because of the error, taxes for average homeowners in the city are increasing $135 more than they would have.
After nobody spoke at the hearing, the Common Council spent nearly a half-hour discussing the mistake, which was not caught by anyone else during a review in August. Alders sharply questioned not only how it happened – assessor Paul Musser told them he put a decimal in the wrong place in an online form – but how the city can ensure it never happens again.
Part of the reason was it was inputting for a new tax-increment financing district (TID 8), which hadn’t happened for well over a decade before that. Moreover, TID 8 overlaps TID 6, which compounded his error by double counting some properties.
The council spent less than five minutes discussing every other element of the budget, for which they had gotten a 40-minute presentation a week earlier. No amendments were offered, and the only comments were the standard thanks to staff for their efforts.
The budget, tighter than it’s been in a few years because of slowing growth and an increased commitment to debt reduction in the face of upcoming major projects, includes a new police officer, funding for Verona’s portion of a third ambulance crew starting in August, a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for non-union staff and a tax exemption-required increase of more than $100,000 for the library.
The council could have chosen to offset the TIF reporting error to adjust the tax levy, but it would have had significant consequences on future budgets, and nobody proposed doing so. As explained by the finance director, the budget as approved pushed the city to its statutory levy limit, and reducing the levy would have come with a hit to next year’s levy limit.
With construction not expected to pick up much next year and more increases for the library and EMS planned and essentially unavoidable, that would put the budget in a worse pinch next year, possibly forcing more debt spending.
That unpalatable situation prompted Ald. Evan Touchett (Dist. 4) to lash out at Musser, starting with a polite comment about being “disappointed” and eventually saying the situation makes him “sick to his stomach,” particularly when he thinks of residents on a fixed income.
“I’m personally now going to be paying for it and so are the citizens of Verona. It’s very troubling to say the least,” he said. “You let us all down.”
Ald. Chad Kemp (D-1) commended Musser for his willingness to “stand in the fire” and take the criticism. Kemp, the Finance committee chair, asked city staff to make the procedure clear for preventing such mistakes in the future.
“It’s imperative nothing like this ever happens again,” he said.
Full property tax bills, including other jurisdictions like the school district, will be mailed in early to mid December.