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Columbia County’s property value rises

September 18, 2018

For the fifth consecutive year, Columbia County’s property values are on the rise.

That’s good news for members of the County Board’s Finance Committee, who this week are beginning the process of assembling the county’s 2019 proposed budget.

County Comptroller Lois Schepp said the rate of valuation increase – about 3.6 percent – is lower than the 4 percent increase that the county experienced between 2017 and 2018.

“Last year we had a lot of growth, but we’re not seeing it this year,” Schepp said.

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue has reported the following annual valuation statistics for Columbia County:

The equalized value for 2017 – the basis for determining the county’s 2019 tax base – comes to $5.35 billion, up from $5.29 billion for this year’s tax base.For the last two years, Columbia County’s valuation has exceeded the peak of $5.25 billion in 2010, after which the recession resulted in steady annual declines until the valuation started rising again in 2015.Countywide, new construction accounted for a little more than $64 million of the valuation, an increase of 1.2 percent. For most operating expenditures (exceptions include debt service, libraries and bridge aid), state law limits the increase in the amount of property tax revenue that counties are allowed to collect to the percentage of increase attributable to new construction. (Columbia County’s $46 million building project doesn’t count, because it’s tax-exempt.)In most of Columbia County’s towns, villages and cities, increases traceable to new construction were modest or non-existent. In fact, only in four municipalities – the town of Dekorra, the villages of Friesland and Fall River and the city of Lodi – did the increase exceed 2 percent.One municipality, the village of Cambria, experienced a decrease of 3.79 percent in its valuation traceable to new construction, due to the May 31, 2017, explosion at Didion Milling, which killed five people.

In response to a question from Finance Committee Chairman Dan Drew of the town of Pacific, Schepp said Thursday she does not know yet exactly how the valuation information will affect property tax revenue.

On paper, she said, the state levy limit would allow Columbia County to increase by no more than $260,000.

But state law changed this year, to eliminate the personal property tax.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, personal property is defined as “all goods, wares, merchandise, chattels and effects of any nature or description having any marketable value and not included in real property.” A factory’s machinery and equipment would be an example of personal property.

So instead of getting tax revenues from personal property, Columbia County will get a payment in lieu of taxes of $152,000, and will be allowed to raise the levy by only $107,000.

“That won’t count for much,” Drew said.

Schepp said it’s unlikely the allowed property tax revenue increase will be enough to cover the increase in the county’s costs for employee health insurance.

Columbia County will enter the second year of a two-year contract with Dean for employee health coverage, and part of the agreement is a cap of 8.9 percent in cost increase, regardless of the county’s claims history or other factors. Corporation Counsel Joseph Ruf said negotiations are ongoing to lower that cap to 7.9 percent, which would save the county about $50,000.

The Finance Committee is meeting with county department heads over the next few weeks to go over their budget requests. According to Schepp, the requests, as submitted, exceed Columbia County’s available revenue by about $2.4 million, making it almost certain that the county will need to dip into the general fund again in 2019, to balance the budget.

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