Mayor John Dickert and City Administrator Tom Friedel talked with Journal Times reporter Paul Sloth about Dickert's claim last week that the city's tax levy - the amount of money raised with local property taxes - would increase 1 percent under his plan, even though the numbers clearly showed the mayor was seeking a 2.7 percent increase in the levy. Sloth flagged the discrepancy in his budget story, we followed up with questions, and apparently City Council members were also confused.
Friedel admitted to Sloth the math used to get the 1 percent number was confusing, but Dickert refused to own up to the muddled math.
"I didn't see the confusion at all. The taxpayers in my estimation are concerned about layoffs, furloughs and services," Dickert told Sloth. "I'm doing what the taxpayers asked me, ‘Mayor how much are you raising my budget?' I'm raising it 1 percent. We've tried to play this budget as straight as possible."
But along with the obvious discrepancy of a budget showing a tax levy jump of 2-1/2 times what the mayor claimed in his budget address, the city's administration also declined to acknowledge the, on average, 4.4 percent drop in the value of city homes this year. That means any increase in city spending is compounded by the loss in property value throughout Racine.
Friedel and Dickert glossed over this issue by declining to release a property tax rate with the mayor's budget proposal. It's the first time in at least a decade a Racine mayor omitted the tax rate information from their budget. The likely reason: the city's property tax rate is headed for a sizable increase to offset the city's overall decline in property value.
A search through recent news stories found officials in Racine County, Mount Pleasant, Brookfield, and Ozaukee County all released tax rates with their proposed budgets. We couldn't find a municipality or county that did not include the tax rate in its proposal.