Promises made relative to the referendum have been kept, officials say

By Michael S. Hoey


Some property owners have questioned why their property taxes rose more than expected as a result of the successful passage of a $2.8 million non-recurring referendum by the Delavan-Darien School District in November of 2018. District officials responded to those questions last week.

District Administrator Jill Sorbie and Business Administrator Anthony Klein said the increase in taxes was exactly in line with what was promised. Klein said some people have been confused about how property taxes are calculated, leading to the questions.

Sorbie said the promises made about what the money would be used for were kept with class sizes being reduced due to the hiring of new teachers, including classroom and special education teachers, middle school elective teachers, a woods teacher at the high school, a match coach, and a marketing person. The high school also added a second world language, sign language, based on student feedback.

Promises made about curriculum, computers, and support for the technical education department were also met, according to Sorbie. New curriculum was purchased for K-5 science and math for grades 7-8. A new social studies curriculum is being piloted for potential purchase next year. Some new Chromebooks have been purchased for students along with some new computers for teachers. New equipment was also purchased for the technical education department.

Some staff received a cost of living salary increase and others received an increase based on a careful market analysis of what other area districts pay staff.

Sorbie said the district also kept its promise to set aside $500,000 each year for its fund balance, which will allow the district to become less reliant on its line of credit. She said 98 percent of Wisconsin districts rely on a line of credit due to the timing of when the state allocates its aid to districts.

She said all of this was done while staying within the promised increase of $75 per $100,000 of property value.

“Overall, DDSD accomplished everything that we outlined during the referendum,” Sorbie said. “We greatly appreciate the support of our community and feel that we truly are ‘Moving Forward with Promise.’”

Some property owners in the district, particularly within the City of Delavan, have questioned if staying below $75 per $100,000 of property value was kept, according to Klein. He made a presentation to the school board last week explaining why some property owners have mistakenly thought that to be the case.

According to Klein, the increase in property taxes that resulted from the referendum was in line with what was promised. In fact, he said, the district levied even less than it could have to ensure that. The district promised to raise property taxes by $75 per $100,000. It actually raised the levy by $74.98.

Klein said some property owners have misunderstood how the school tax liability is determined for each property and have used incorrect assumptions to estimate what the impact of the referendum has been on their property. He said many people have been using their property’s assessed value and not its equalized fair market value in doing calculations.

Klein said municipalities levy school taxes off of the assessed value of properties but the amount due is based on the equalized fair market value because properties are not assessed every year. He said municipalities consider that to be the fair way to create equity within the municipality and the assessed value of a property really does not mean much as far as what the property tax rate is.

Municipalities want to tax properties based on what they are actually worth, not what their assessed value is, he explained.

Klein said the equalized mill rate is the rate set by the district based on the full value of the property while the adjusted mill rate is what municipalities set to account for the difference between assessed value and real value.

He said the district does not even see information on assessed values and his calculations are based on the equalized fair market values. Some people have questioned why the district did not tell people prior to the referendum passed that their property values would increase. According to Klein, the Department of Revenue sets property values and the district has no way to predict what the Department of Revenue will determine property values to be.

As an example, Klein said property values in the City of Delavan went up leading to city property owners paying more than property owners in the Village of Darien, where property values went down. Further complicating matters, property owners in the Village of Darien were overcharged last year and are being charged even less this year to make up for it and the other taxing districts are making up the difference. Next year village residents could see their taxes go back up.

Klein said some property owners have said their calculations – when done correctly – still show a larger increase than what they think it should have been. Klein said those property owners should contact their municipality or the county to see why that is as he believes the district has kept its promise.


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