It’s that time of year again; another election day in Western Kenosha County and that means yet another attempt to boost our sky-high property taxes courtesy of Wilmot Union High School. After the electorate defeated an $8.4M request to exceed the State of Wisconsin revenue spending limits this past year, the Wilmot HS Board has come back with another request to exceed the revenue limits by additional $7.5M over three years for operational purposes, with tax-weary property taxpayers left to foot the hefty bill.
Wilmot District property taxpayers were elated when they received their property tax bills last December when they noticed that the Wilmot HS portion dipped by roughly 75%. The reason for the steep decline was that the 20-year $39.5M referendum from 2004 which expanded the school, refinanced debt, and purchased land was finally paid off, leaving WUHS to tax only what was allowed by state revenue spending limits.
Finally, it was time to put more money in the pockets of the taxpayer. But if the Wilmot HS board has its way, property taxes will be on the rise once again.
This latest Operating Referendum will be decided by voters during the February 20, 2024 primary. This is a time when voting is typically the lightest and it will be important for district residents to go to the polls to ensure that their vote counts on this important matter.
In a mailer to district residents WUHS stated that their “dire financial situation” was caused by underfunding from the state of WI, inflation, and declining enrollment. In truth, Wilmot has lost approximately 21% of their student population due to declining enrollment during the past 10 years. This is a statewide trend and one that is expected to continue in coming years. Do you understand their logic? If student enrollment is up, they need more funds, and if enrollment is down, they still need more funds. Does it ever end?
According to the WUHS mailer, should this latest operating referendum pass, you can expect your WUHS property tax portion to increase 54% next year alone vs this year’s mill rate—that is an additional $302 for a 150K house, $503 for a $250K home, and $703 for a $350K house over the course of the next three years. That’s not chump change, is it? What could you do with that money in your pocket?
A fair question would be ‘what do we buy with this property tax increase’? They say they will avoid staff reductions and hire back 4.3 FTE teaching positions as well as one custodial position. The staff reductions were in part due to hiring done with ESSER funding (Covid) which has now ended. So how ridiculous is it to make long-term hiring commitments with short-term funding? That, folks, is bad planning.
In addition, they want to spend $1M on building maintenance, $500K/year for roof replacement, additional money for system and lighting upgrades, Chromebooks, and $300K per year for “future needs” among other things. We can all agree that buildings need to be maintained, but why have they not been taking care of the structure all along? What isn’t mentioned is that the WUHS school board has plans for yet another approximately $10M Building Referendum this year should this operating referendum pass. All these funds going into a building that is housing a sharply declining enrollment.
The plans to bail themselves out of a “dire situation” were caused by an administration that doesn’t know how to budget, doesn’t know how to spend public money, and is oblivious to continued declining enrollment both now and in the years to come. How about a plan to spend and maintain with an eye on the obvious, which is a need to plan expenditures and revenue based on current reality and focused on needs vs. wants.
Property owners are faced with the same dilemmas that WUHS is faced with inflation, increased costs, job insecurity, ongoing property maintenance. Yet property owners must find ways to budget and spend to stay within their means. Our Wilmot School Board and their administration need to do the same thing. There is only so much money that property owners can part with, and now is not the time to increase taxes on an over-taxed populace.
Vote “no” on the WUHS Operating Referendum on Tuesday, February 20.