Last month many Howard homeowners were taken by surprise when opening their property tax statements. There was a large increase, and many questions about why it happened. Let’s dive in:
How much is the tax increase and how was it communicated?
Last summer, the village sent property owners a letter explaining plans to increase assessments by around 25% and to lower the mill rate from 3.98 to 3.52. It even included a calculator tool for people to estimate how much taxes would change for their specific properties. According to the village, a typical homeowner would see a $100 increase. The tone indicated the tax increase was not very large and nothing to worry about.
This letter missed the mark because it did not factor in the other three taxing entities, which are Brown County, HSSD, and NWTC. In fact, the $100 figure was downright misleading, as it ignored how much the 25% assessed value increase would impact the other three tax levies. The truth is, a typical Howard homeowner received a property tax increase of several hundred dollars – much higher than the $100 figure, as that only accounted for the Village of Howard portion. To give you a concrete example, the year-to-year tax increase for my Howard home was $353.96, or 7.8%.
This was a significant communication failure. We needed more transparent information from our leadership about the decisions made by the village board. Once the levy amounts were settled, it would have been easy to send out a revised calculator tool to address the flaws in the summertime letter. Expecting residents to weed through the 205 page budget document or the board’s meeting minutes is not sufficient. The village has a website and social media tools. The Press Times is a great local newspaper and would have been a great communication partner. Village leadership needs to be comfortable using these communication channels to inform Howard residents – especially when bad news is coming!
How is Howard using the extra money?
We do have to realize that inflation is running hotter than it has since 1981, reaching 9% in 2022 (on a YTY basis). In an environment like this, the village faces rising costs to provide the same level of service to the community, so tax increases are necessary. That said, there were a couple of significant additions to the 2023 budget that were discretionary. The village expanded staff by adding two new firefighting positions. The portion of the budget dedicated to retiring debt was also increased. The village borrowed $47 million in 2022 to help build the Schmidt Pavilion and the Howard Commons Apartments. There were raises for village staff, increases for contracted services, and a few other miscellaneous increases. A discussion on the most appropriate budget priorities for the village will have to wait for a future blog post!
What comes next?
I believe Howard residents deserve better communication on important village issues. If you agree, and if you appreciated my communication style in this post, I would in turn appreciate your vote for Howard Village President. I promise frequent and timely communication on village issues. The election is on April 4.