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State rules force Boscobel assessment re-do

If you are a Boscobel resident whose property taxes went up after last year’s reassessment, you might be hearing more bad news. Property values didn’t go up enough to satisfy state laws—and they will need to be re-re-assessed this year.

Wisconsin statutes require all municipalities to tax property at a rate within 10 percent of its actual market value, as figured by the state Department of Revenue (DOR). Boscobel’s assessors have missed that mark every year for the past five years—with property undervalued by as much as 29 percent.

Last year’s re-assessment was supposed to fix that. Instead, the current assessment is only 85 percent of the DOR calculation of market value, meaning that the city is still out of compliance with the law. Boscobel’s City Council learned about the problem at its March 18 meeting.

What went wrong?

The city contracts with Accurate Assessor, a Wisconsin firm that conducts valuations throughout the state. The city’s current contract of $27,600 runs through 2028, according to City Administrator Patricia Smith.

Bill Gaber, an assessor with Accurate, addressed the council via a computer audio feed.

Every year, the DOR calculates the market value of all properties in a given municipality, he told the council. He explained that assessors at his firm work with officials from the DOR to make sure their assessed values come within the 10 percent allowance.

According to a letter dated June 2, which Gaber supplied to the council, the DOR provided a preliminary estimate of a seven percent increase for residential property values, and a two percent increase in commercial property values.

“I’ve been doing this for 12 years,” Gaber told the council, “and usually if they tell us their preliminary number, it’s pretty close to what they’re going to do for that year. We did our reevaluation based off those numbers. We never checked back with the state to see if those numbers changed.”

But the actual increases were closer to 24 and 28 percent respectively.

The letter clearly states that these estimates are subject to change, and directly warns that they are not intended as a guide for local assessors. A spokesperson for the DOR, Patty Mayers, underscored these warnings, and added that, in fact, the valuation process is quite predictable: “Our timeline/calendar is posted on the DOR website and equalized values are posted per statute – preliminary on August 1 and certified on August 15,” Mayers wrote.

New numbers next year

The city’s contract with Accurate includes one re-assessment, which will be conducted in 2024 to bring the city into compliance with the statutes.

Property taxes are determined by dividing the total budget by the total value of real estate in the city. The mill rate divides that into a dollar amount owed for each $1,000 of real estate value.

Hence, if the entire city’s property valuation is too low, everyone’s share of the tax burden goes up. Conversely, if an individual property is undervalued, that owner will not pay their fair portion of the total tax burden.

Fees approved

In other business, the council adopted a final fee schedule, which increased several fees paid by residents for services.

At a prior meeting, city staff had recommended eliminating the discount for residents participating in the park and recreation programming, including the swimming pool.

The final fee schedule preserves the resident discount, and set season pass rates for the pool at $40 per person and $90 per family. Non-residents will pay $50 and $120.

The council also: Formally endorsed the development of a new fire station.

Approved the part-time hire of Roger Halverson in the parks department at a rate of $12 an hour.

Approved applications for a beer and wine license for the new Family Dollar store, as well as operator’s licenses for seven of its employees.

Approved street and alley closing requests for the Greg Bell Jr. Golf Outing behind the Pour House May 17 through 19; the Boscobel Antique Club Tractor Pull on Oak Street for May 10; a bike rodeo event near Gundersen Hospital on April 27; and a 5K walk/run also near the hospital on May 14.