A guest post by Kenosha’s 8th District Alderman Dave Mau.
The City of Kenosha’s tax rate went up 3.8% this year. Many of us noticed this on the City portion of our recent tax bills. Yet on Dec 1st, the Kenosha News printed an article based on information from Mayor John Antaramian, titled “Kenosha City Council Overwhelmingly Approves Mayor’s 2023 Budget with Slight Tax Rate Cut”. Considering the city’s portion of the tax rate went up, the statements in the article are disingenuous.
Each year, homeowners get one tax bill, but there are 4 taxing entities on the bill, each with its own separate tax rate. The combined rate went down because the other jurisdictions all lowered their rates (the County, the School District and Gateway). But the mayor and the city council have no control over those other entities. It’s unethical to take credit for other jurisdictions and tout lower taxes, when the rate has gone up and the city has continued it’s wasteful spending.
Kenosha ranks #10 in the entire USA of cities reporting the largest losses from tax abatements, sacrificing 29% of its revenue to subsidized development and the like. The city’s debt is nearly the highest in the state at over $250 million, with 11% in total accumulated interest. 17% of the budget goes to debt payment, and that amount has increased by 33% in the last 5 years. We have one of the highest tax rates in the state, and one of the highest costs of living. This year’s tax increase is nearly double the increase in any of the past 4 years. I was the sole dissenting vote for this bloated budget and tax hike.
The mayor and council have repeatedly expressed to me their wishes to tax Kenosha citizens even more. They recently passed a resolution urging Wisconsin to change its law that limits the amount that cities can tax, claiming it’s the state’s fault that we can’t pay for staff and essential services. In the meantime, they continue to throw millions of dollars into non-essential development and special interests. State limits aren’t the problem. It would be wise to look inward before blaming others.
S&P is the credit rating agency that banks use to measure risk when borrowing to local governments. This year’s S&P bond rating report says Kenosha has too much development and debt: “Kenosha’s debt metrics are high relative to those of its peers”. They mention “Kenosha’s growth has contributed to a high direct debt burden”. But since our population has stayed the same for over a decade, and school enrollment is down, the growth can be attributed to the city funding speculative projects using credit, and spreading the city outwards. The report says Kenosha has an “elevated direct debt burden with high carrying charges”. A carrying charge is “a cost arising from unproductive assets such as stored goods or unoccupied premises,” meaning many of these speculative projects aren’t producing results. It brings to mind the failed Uptown Brass Pick ‘n Save and housing complex on 63rd. Next on the list are things like pickleball courts, more housing, an archery range, a wage increase for the mayor, the lavish Innovation Neighborhood, and more. Government “development” is gambling and debt, and the Kenosha council is in love with it.
The mayor was quoted as saying, “The city has a long tradition of responsible budgeting. The 2023 expenditure budget continues this tradition using constraints set by this administration.” I have yet to see any constraints, and I have yet to see this council vote against any of their million dollar proposals. Don’t let them gaslight you into believing their self-flattery and sleight of hand.