October 18, 2004

Fred Mohs on Property Tax Exemptions

Fred Mohs:

The local papers have been full of troubling news about the budgets for the city, county and public schools. The sheriff needs more deputies, drug and alcohol treatment centers are left unfunded, park and sanitation workers are cut, West High School does not have money to put on its fall play, fourth grade strings are in jeopardy and fees for doing everything are up across the board.

At the same time, a growing number of Madisonians have managed to live in properties that are tax exempt. A report produced by the Madison Assessor's Office indicates that the self-reported value of retirement home parcels is $25.1 million and that other tax exempt housing has a value of $64.3 million, for a total self-reported value of $89.4 million.

The reported values are probably less than half of actual value. Madison, Dane County and the Madison School District are probably giving up $4 million to $5 million in property taxes annually.

The developers, managers and owners of tax- exempt housing have pulled out all the stops to maintain their privilege. They have garnered six of nine citizen positions on a legislative council study on this matter. The only hope for the average taxpayer is that they become aware of this unfair situation and will contact their legislator, encouraging them to buck the pressure that they are now under from the tax-exempt lobby.

If a reader of this letter is an elderly person living on Social Security in a modest apartment who cannot afford the deposit necessary to live in "luxury senior housing for active adults over 55," ask yourself: Why am I paying to run the city, county and school district while people far more capable than I am are escaping? How do I feel about a situation that permits citizens who are immune from property taxation to vote for officials who spend our money or for school board referendums that increase spending? How do I feel about permanently giving up the right to tax residential property based on some vague and unaccountable claim that somehow good in some amount will be done?

We ask for accountability and everything government does. How stupid and guileless are we if we do not encourage our elected officials in state government to seriously attend to the shortcomings of the current situation.

Mohs is a Madison attorney.

Posted by James Zellmer at October 18, 2004 12:00 AM | Subscribe to this site via RSS:
Posted to Taxes