It’s like getting an early Christmas present you paid for yourself.
On Thanksgiving week, just in time for holiday shopping, the City of Verona is mailing checks to property owners who paid taxes on the 2018 levy, and for homeowners, they’ll be an average of $119.
The nearly yearlong wait to correct the previous assessor’s $54 million clerical error is a result of working through the state Legislature because a change in law was necessary for a correction.
It was actually just over a year, if you factor in how long ago city staff and elected officials were aware the error was there. The mistake stuck though, despite repeated efforts to persuade the state Department of Administration, who was unable to correct the mistake prior to the budget’s publication.
The error was the result of former assessor Paul Musser, first duplicating some $5 million in taxable value between one tax-increment financing district and an overlapping one created last year. He compounded the mistake by transposing the decimal point so it was more than $50 million off.
The city terminated Musser’s contract earlier this year.
After the state Senate and Assembly each voted unanimously in favor of Senate Bill 269, which was designed expressly for Verona’s problem, the bill headed to Gov. Tony Evers’ desk.
But the city didn’t wait to sign the bills before calculating and printing the checks. Evers’ staff notified city staff Tuesday, Nov. 19, he would sign the bill on Thursday, Nov. 21. In anticipation of the signing, the Department of Revenue agreed to allow refunds, city administrator Adam Sayre told the Press in an email.
The law, which is worded as if it isn’t specific to Verona, is known as Act 37, and it reads that any excess tax increment from a reporting error above $50 million in that occurred in 2018 can be reimbursed from the general fund.
A TIF district is an economic development tool used by cities to collect taxes from multiple jurisdictions, with the idea being that increased taxes would not have happened without the funding. As a result, the error not only collected excess taxes from the city, but also from the Verona Area School District, the county and the technical college district.
Sayre told the Press on Nov. 20 the city expects to mail the checks around Nov. 27. He added that in order to control costs, the city will not mail any checks of less than $10, though any such taxpayers can retrieve their refunds at Verona City Center, 111 Lincoln St. (Some taxpayers include personal property tax only).
The refund is based on an assessed valuation of $.4392, and the average home is assessed this year at $272,000.