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Don’t Blow Smoke Up Our Assessments; City Tax Rate Increases: Opinion

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A guest post by Kenosha’s 8th District Alderman Dave Mau.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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14 Responses

  1. The mayor is guilty of many things. Gaslighting may be one of them. But Alderman Mau, to some extent, is the pot calling the kettle black when it comes to being disingenuous.

    The reality is that levy limits imposed by the state and increased demands for (and cost of) municipal services is a STATEWIDE problem. That’s not gaslighting. It’s reality.

    Gaslighting goes back to Gov. Patrick Lucey who nearly 50 years ago presented what he called a “no tax increase budget” but the reality is that it was laden with many hidden taxes, such as creating and increasing a slew of user fees that continue to be increased today. The county board pulls this financial shell game all the time. The modus operandi there is to defer maintenance and spending until it becomes absolutely necessary and costs more instead of either addressing the problem when it’s cheaper to do so or else setting money aside just as we all do with our home budgets. Seldom are politicians up front about budgets and spending. One governor, Tony Earl, was faced with an economic downturn and the legislature put in a temporary tax surcharge that was ended early. Like it or not he told the truth and was rewarded by being labeled as “Tony the Taxer” by Tommy Thompson who, when he resigned as governor, left Acting Governor Scott McCallum with a financial mess.

    Taxes — and I don’t like paying them, either — are like your condo association. They figure out how much it costs to maintain the complex and split the bill. Yes, you can — and should — look for economies but sometimes it’s the cheapskate that spends the most. And, to be sure, sometimes you have to spend money to make money. Business 101.

    I agree with much of what Alderman Mau says but he needs to tell the whole truth. If he doesn’t then he, too, is gaslighting.

    1. You are gaslighting about gaslighting. “Kenosha ranks #10 in the entire USA of cities reporting the largest losses from tax abatements”… “We have one of the highest tax rates in the state, and one of the highest costs of living.”… “The city’s debt is nearly the highest in the state”… “Kenosha’s debt metrics are high relative to those of its peers”… must be the state’s fault…

      1. I read the response as saying there’s plenty of blame to be shared. I was in Washington. Some of the politicians who screamed the most about government spending cranked up the debt to record levels. (To be fair, not all debt is evil. Sometimes it primes the pump to bolster the private sector economy.) The city has lacked professional management for many years. Frank Pacetti was an alderman. The present city administrator was the police chief. The mayor is a burned out politician. The city council is mostly a joke. The city hall is an expensive-to-maintain dump. (If you were the CEO of a business thinking of investing here and you walked in there what would you think?) This mess didn’t happen overnight and anyone who thinks gambling or pot is the fix has rocks in their head and brains in their ass. Poor management — for years.

        1. And I think you’re ignoring the obvious, that a story about high taxes has nothing to do negatively about people complaining that the state is preventing them from Raising the taxes even more. Taxes are high because spending is high, and removing tax limits will only make spending scream higher. Kenosha and its mayor’s problem lies with priorities, spending money on pet projects and propping up things like downtown while ignoring potholes for years. Obviously, a mayor who has a near record in total years serving in the job shouldn’t be given a pass and allowed to complain about how others have let things deteriorate. Like the entire country, letting things deteriorate for decades can’t be cured instantly, by Society crippling raises in taxes to be paid mostly by the folks that are already paying for everything. So much is paid for by income and real estate taxes and it’s hard to count for people renting as paying their fair share of real estate taxes if their rent is actually being paid from the income taxes of the so-called middle income working stiffs.

          1. Of course taxes are a pain in the ass. The police need squad cars, right? What’s happened to the price of cars? Gas? Paper and office supplies? Health care? Building materials? Cleaning supplies? The city, county and state all are consumers. When suppliers increase prices what does Pick-N-Save do? That ‘s the problem with politicians — they don’t tell the truth.

    1. I can’t speak about the north side because I don’t get that way very much. Here on the south side every other car has Illinois plates. I used to see maybe 1 in 10. This will be Lake county north before long. Things are not going to get better here anytime soon.

  2. How much can be saved by firing the communist health director and the arrogant, prick Ron Rogers? How much tax revenue was lost from businesses being burned out from Dave Beth negligence? Were the city vehickes like garbage trucks that were used as blockades ands police cars that were allowed to burn by Dave Beth covered by insurance or are riots/terrorism not covered when they are allowed to happen by Dave Beth? It all adds up to loser democrats that only serve their personal agendas.

  3. BTW I do understand health director and wRong Rogers are county employees, not city. It’s fun laying on these degenerates in our government. Especially Dave Beth

  4. Save a $100,000 grand by getting rid of the city administrator which isn’t needed. That’s the mayor’s job to do what he does. The city never had one until a certain mayor created the position. Folks we had Democrats running the show forever…it’s time to get a Republican or Independent in as mayor!!! They can’t do any worse than what we’ve had!!!

  5. Socialist Dems are always the Tax and Spend types ! Just look at the job Dementia Joe and his party did on the national economy ! Remember Kenosha you get what you vote for ! if you like being taxed to death easy answer continue to put socialist on the city council and in the Mayors office. The spending and debt numbers don’t lie, again something we have all seen on the national level. You cant put the blame on just one alderman, they all vote and they all agree on whatever goes before the council. Kenosha needs to break the socialist cycle and start putting fiscally minded people on the council and in the Mayors office. Remember Kenosha voters ONLY YOU CAN PREVENT SOCIALISM !

  6. City needs to trip some fat. Making jobs that don’t need to be made and having people get paid what they shouldn’t be getting paid.

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