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Stop Sprawl
Costs of Sprawl

Tired of Higher Property Taxes? Study Shows We Need to Control Sprawl Development to Control Property Tax Growth

Madison, WI. -- With December tax bills now in hand, the Sierra Club’s analysis of Wisconsin Department of Revenue figures shows that property taxes for all Dane County communities are growing much faster than population, more than 3 1/2 times faster in fact. Town property taxes are growing five times faster than population. In order to reduce this property tax growth, taxpayers should ask their local officials to determine the costs of new growth before it happens, and ask new residents to pay their fair share for additional schools, roads, police, fire, sewer, and other expensive services.

"We all know that property taxes are the worst tax of all and it is made worst by growth and development," said Gary Bahr of Stop Taxes on Property (STOP), a tax group. "This study shows that new development, especially in towns, costs us all and drives up all our property taxes."

The study showed that between 1990-96, Dane County’s population grew by almost 12 percent, but total property taxes in all communities in the county grew by almost 43 percent, or 7 percent per year. All property taxes grew 3.57 times faster than population. Dane County taxes grew slightly less at 3.46 times faster than population over the same time period.

"As we all rush to the post office to pay higher property tax bills, we should ask our leaders what they are doing to keep tax growth down," said Brett Hulsey, Director of the Sierra Club’s Sprawl Costs Us All Project and study author. "We should ask developers and new residents to pay their fair share so that the rest of us don’t have to pay more."

In Dane County towns, property taxes grew faster than population by 4.98 times. While the towns’ population grew by 6.77 percent, total town taxes grew by almost 34 percent. Madison’s taxes grew relatively slower at only 3.55 times faster than population growth, with 11 percent population growth and 38 percent tax increase.

"This study clearly shows that building in the towns is much more expensive for taxpayers than building in the city," said Dave Cieslewicz, Executive Director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin. "We can protect our communities, farmland and wallets by guiding development toward areas where public services already exist and are more cost effective, such as cities."

This study underscores the need for Dane County and all communities to determine the cost of development prior to permitting new sprawl. "The Property Tax Impact Statements will give all citizens the information on whether a development will increase or reduce property taxes," said Hulsey. "We can use impact fees to ask developers to pay for new schools, roads, and other expensive services to keep future tax growth down."

It also shows that additional growth in the townships could be very expensive to all county taxpayers. Tax growth in cities will be lower. Further analysis is needed to determine exactly what is creating the high costs and determine the costs of schools. Targeted growth like the Vision 2020 plan will help keep all Dane County taxes lower and protect Dane County’s families and environment.

Study Assumptions: We assumed that Wisconsin Department of Revenue’s total property tax reflected the actual increase in costs of local government. We did not include state tax subsidies such as the property tax credit. We also assumed that inflation was relatively low between 1990 and 1996 and negligible. The relative difference between city and town property tax growth remains the same, even taking inflation into account.

For a copy of the study, call 608-257-4994.

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