Misrepresenting Milwaukee’s property tax problem

On Sunday, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had an article on [tag]property taxes[/tag] with the subtitle: “By one measure, Milwaukee is among ‘tax havens’ in area.” That subtitle and the information in the information in the article are completely misleading and Milwaukee is NOT a property [tag]tax haven[/tag]. Here’s why.

The original theory to be tested was whether or not high property tax rates in Milwaukee have prompted people to move to the suburbs. The rates themselves are high. $22.93 per thousand of assessed value in Milwaukee County, compared to $15.59 per thousand in Waukesha County.

The Public Policy Form studied the rates and said the following: By one key measure, the city of Milwaukee ranks as a “property tax haven.” The folks doing the study found that the average property tax bill in the region was over $4,000 in 2006, while the average tax bill was under $3,500 in the city of Milwaukee. The city of Waukesha had a average property tax bill of $4,079.

Why is this misleading? The average home sales prices were $299,023 for Waukesha County and $176,837 for Milwaukee County. As you can see, even though Milwaukee might have lower property tax bills in raw dollars, when compared to the value of the property, Milwaukee’s taxes are sky-high.

If you compare the average tax bill to the average property sales value, the numbers look like this:

$3,500 / $176,837 = .0198
So the average property taxes equal 1.98% of the home’s value in Milwaukee.

$4,079 / $299,023 = .0136
So the average property taxes equal 1.36% of the home’s value in Waukesha.

That calculation puts Milwaukee’s property taxes at a rate that is 45.5% higher than Waukesha.