Biggest Taxer in Town
Over the last five years property taxes have been driven by just one of the five local taxing units: Milwaukee Public Schools.
It’s that time of year homeowners hate, when they have to pay their annual property tax bill. Sales tax is paid in barely noticeable amounts on purchases all year, and the income tax is gradually withheld on your regular paycheck, but the property tax generates one big fat bill annually. Small wonder it’s such a hated tax.
The good news for the average city taxpayer was that the combined property tax levy rose by just 1.2 percent in 2012. That includes the levy from five different governmental entities, the biggest being Milwaukee Public Schools ($10.35 per $1,000 of assessed value), followed by the City of Milwaukee ($10.25), Milwaukee County ($5.26), Milwaukee Area Technical College ($2.21), and the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District ($1.70).
Four of those five entities have kept their tax levy increases below the rise in inflation over the last five years. From 2007-2012, the cost of living rose 11 percent, while MATC’s levy actually dropped by 1.3 percent, compared to a 5.1 percent increase for the MMSD, 7.2 percent for Milwaukee County and 10.1 percent for the City of Milwaukee. Only Milwaukee Public Schools exceeded the inflation rate, increasing its tax levy by a whopping 19.7 percent over this five-year period.
Indeed, going back ten years, MPS has surpassed all the other four units of government in levy growth. Back in 2002, MPS actually had a smaller levy than the City of Milwaukee, but it has grown at such a disproportionate rate it now ranks first in town, with the biggest property tax levy. The principal reasons for this are the high cost of benefits like retiree health insurance, and a shrinking base of students and per-pupil payments, due to continued losses in enrollment to choice and charter schools and open enrollment. But under the leadership of superintendent Gregory Thornton, the district’s tax levy rose just 1 percent in 2012, which is remarkably low compared to past years.
Update 3:10 p.m. January 15: MPS spokesperson Tony Tagliavia has provided data (see comments) that separates the MPS levy from the cost of voucher schools and which shows the MPS-only levy actually declined by 2.4 percent over the last two years while the cost of the choice program rose 8.1 percent. If and when he is able to separate out data in years prior to that we will be happy to publish those.
War on Chief Flynn Ends — For Now
There were no huge surprises in the recent audit by the Florida-based PRI Management Group, the consultant hired by the Fire & Police Commission to review the Milwaukee Police Department’s handling of crime data. The report defended the department and bashed the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel for misleading coverage, concluding that “the allegations inferring the Milwaukee Police Department had intentionally altered (data) are baseless. The Milwaukee Police Department is not hiding crimes, erasing statistics or undertaking other efforts to present a false picture of crime…”
Perhaps more interesting has been the range of media observers defending Chief Ed Flynn, from conservatives like radio talkers Mark Belling and Charlie Sykes to more liberal observers like Milwaukee Magazine’s Pressroom columnist Erik Gunn and the weekly Shepherd Express.
Sykes, in fact, offered a funny introduction to his column, warning that “in this column, there will be strange bedfellows. Dogs and cats living together.” He then proceeded to quote columns by Gunn and by me (and Sykes is no fan of mine).
Sykes charged there was a “journalistic jihad waged against the chief by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which has devoted thousands of words and slain whole forests in their attempt to suggest that Flynn has been fudging the crime numbers.” It’s “a case study in the flaws of prize-hunting, agenda-driven vendetta journalism,” he added.
Gunn has written that some of the JS stories have had “serious shortcomings” and were “flawed investigative projects” that were “colored by years of bad blood between the paper and the department, particularly Chief Ed Flynn.“
Shepherd Express reporter Lisa Kaiser offered a straight-forward report noting the consultant found no proof of data being manipulated but “found many problems with the Journal Sentinel’s misleading articles.”
Perhaps the most powerful part of the consultant’s report ticked off the many factors that would deter a police department from attempting to cook the books: “The intentional manipulation of crime stats would require changing a police report to include information which is contrary to the truth or what was written by the reporting officer. Doing so is a crime if done for this purpose… if caught the repercussions would be catastrophic to the individual personally, to their careers, to their livelihood and to the department. Furthermore, to intentionally change a field on a report for the purposes of lowering a crime rate in a major metropolitan city would require doing so by the hundreds and… would require aligning the multiple people involved in the crime reporting process including civilian records personnel, supervisors and command staff to oblige to committing such an illegal act by the hundreds and expect to get away with it knowing that at any given moment a crime victim or a member of the media could obtain copies of the reports and expose the conspiracy.
“To truly lower crime artificially and successfully conceal the effort, reports of crimes to the police would have to be erased from the multiple places the information simultaneously resides including departmental databases, computer-aided dispatch systems, records management systems, back-up media, phone recordings and mobile computers.”
In short, it’s not easy to cook the books and the Journal Sentinel never came close to proving this was happening. But rather than confess its error, it ran story after story attempting to prove what it couldn’t. I would like to think the consultant’s report closes the chapter on this sort of reporting, but I share Gunn’s fear that there is still bad blood between the newspaper and the chief, which will fuel more unfair reporting. I hope I’m wrong.
-As I predicted last August, then Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald was running for the U.S. Senate simply to build up his name recognition for a planned job as a legislative lobbyist. Fitzgerald has now registered as a lobbyist for School Choice Wisconsin.
-Count blogger and Parks People president Dan Cody as one of those who supports reducing the county supervisors to a part-time salary. Cody, who ran unsuccessfully for county supervisor, losing to former state representative David Cullen, points to Cullen as the poster boy for a lazy board: Cullen has been double dipping, continuing to collect his state legislator salary after being elected to the county board, yet “can’t seem to find the time” to get his website updated, Cody complains.
-State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) has actually been placed on a watch list maintained by Capitol Police officers to keep tabs on people participating in the Solidarity Sing Along, the Cap Times reported.
-The recent announcement by the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign that it will lose half of its funding, all the grant money it has received annually from the Joyce Foundation, is worrisome. Until the WDC was established in 1995, you had to wade through hand-written campaign finance reports, and it would take umpteen hours to check donors to major campaigns like those for governor. Campaigns would be far less transparent without the WDC’s computerized data base of donors. Here’s hoping the group is able to replace this funding.