BY Mayor Kathy Ehley
A few years ago, I was in a weekend strategic planning session for the Wisconsin Humanities Board. We were facing the potential loss of $100,000 in funding. How would/could we continue to do our important work? Our excellent facilitator opened the session by pouring out a jigsaw puzzle with hundreds of pieces on the table. She said, “Keep this in mind as we go through our planning. The work we do this weekend will be like putting a jigsaw puzzle together. ALL the pieces have to be considered and need to fit together.”
I have never forgotten that analogy and use it when describing the “pieces” that are needed to create a strong community where people want to live, work, visit, own and operate businesses.
Think of all the pieces of the Wauwatosa jigsaw puzzle. Each piece must fit into place to make the complete picture and each piece comes with a cost. Think of pieces like infrastructure (water, sewer, streets, sidewalks); safety (police and fire, building inspection); service (voting and permitting, snowplowing, garbage/recycling collection, urban forest); place-making (streetscaping, parks, public art, gathering spots); transportation (cars, bikes, buses, scooters); and places for residents, schools, businesses, parks and green spaces to co-exist. It’s about creating a place where residents and businesses co-exist in mutual benefit with the infrastructure and services they need and want from the city. And this all comes with a cost.
Wauwatosa, with its central location in southeastern Wisconsin and easy access to the freeway system, is a highly desirable place to live and attractive to businesses which has made our real estate ever more valuable (As I experienced with the significant 54% increase in the assessment value of my home).
We’ve become a hub for the biotech industry and major medical care and research. We are home to many employment headquarters like GE Healthcare, Terra Medica, Zywave, Froedtert & MCW, Children’s Hospital of WI, Briggs and Stratton, Wisconsin Steel & Tube, Harley Davidson Product Development Center and many more. We are also a major retail center with the upscale Mayfair Mall and shops at Mayfair Collection.
We have become a destination with our collection of unique restaurants, commercial clusters, beautiful parkways/greenspaces and fun outdoor gathering spaces. Our population is growing again for the first time in over 50 years. With employees, patients, shoppers and visitors, Tosa sees an influx of about 75,000 visitors a day that contributes to our economy.
The City has been making a substantial investment in upgrading century-old sewer and water pipes and one-of-kind street design to control traffic and improve pedestrian and bike traffic. We’ve upgraded and added parks and created gathering spots in areas where commercial is adjacent to residential.
The property tax on residential and commercial properties provides the funding for these services. Properties are assessed so everyone pays their fair share. Over the last ten years, big box stores like Walgreens, Home Depot, Meijer and more have been fighting their assessments, based on a “Dark Store” tax loophole. When they win, that portion of the tax bill shifts to residential and small business property owners. The good news is that the City of Wauwatosa has won five recent court cases resulting in fair and equitable tax assessments for these types of businesses.
Tosa has gone through a reevaluation of all its residential and commercial properties this year. We are required by the State of Wisconsin to periodically revalue all property to keep pace with changes in the real estate market. The last one we did was in 2013. If you have questions about your recent assessment, please contact the Assessor’s Office at 414-479-8969. The City will hold an Open Book Period through September 12 and you can schedule an appointment to discuss your assessment. Please note that no walk-ins will be accepted.
The assessment is not a tax bill. If the property assessment went up 50%, it does not mean the City portion of property tax will go up 50%. The mill rate you pay for city services will be set during the city budget process starting in September. You are welcome to attend the Financial Affairs committee meetings in October discussing the draft budget and the public hearing in November before Council approves the final budget.
Property owners receive one property tax bill for five taxing entities: City of Wauwatosa, Wauwatosa School District, Milwaukee County, Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewage District, and MATC. There will be a line item on the property tax bill for each plus the School District’s November 2018 referendum to update school buildings and facilities. The School District estimates that Wauwatosa property owners will pay approximately $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the School District referendum.
As a community, our challenge is to find the balance in helping Tosa grow and thrive and maintaining our green space, bike trails, neighborhoods, and heritage that make us so special. I encourage you to get engaged. Learn all you can about the City’s budget and the city services it funds. Share your thoughts about your level of satisfaction, your value of Wauwatosa as a place to life and the quality of life here with your Alderpersons and me. You will find information on the property assessments, budgets, construction projects and more on our City website at www.wauwatosa.net. Please sign up to receive email notices on topics of importance to you and/or receive the City newsletter.
Let’s work together to make the pieces of the puzzle fit in the special place we live.