Kevin Fischer is a veteran broadcaster, the recipient of over 150 major journalism awards from the Milwaukee Press Club, the Wisconsin Associated Press, the Northwest Broadcast News Association, the Wisconsin Bar Association, and others. He has been seen and heard on Milwaukee TV and radio stations for over three decades. A longtime aide to state Senate Republicans in the Wisconsin Legislature, Kevin can be seen offering his views on the news on the public affairs program, "InterCHANGE," on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10, and heard filling in on Newstalk 1130 WISN. He lives with his wife, Jennifer, and their lovely young daughter, Kyla Audrey, in Franklin.
I intend to seek an opinion from the Franklin City Attorney to determine if the taxpayers have any recourse for the manner in which the Franklin School District Business Manager and the Franklin School Board completely bungled the school tax levy increase for next year.
Here is the response I asked for from Dave Szychlinski two days ago that I greatly appreciate. Please read it very carefully and then my response:
Thanks for your patience. Before responding to your earlier email, I wanted to collect as much information as I could about the WI Taxpayers Alliance report and the confusion over the numbers which you reported in your blog.
As it turns out, Business Manager Jim Milzer received updated amounts from the state and communicated that to the Board this afternoon. I'm attaching a copy (below) for your information.
Based upon those new figures, the tax rate for operating the schools will go up 4.2% from last year. You will recall that at the annual meeting, Mr. Milzer estimated a 5.6% increase. If a person's home has an assessed value of $100,000, that portion of their tax bill will go up $43.
The 11.7% figure in the Taxpayer Alliance report includes the cost of operating the Community and Recreation Department and the debt service which the District is paying for previous projects. Those are separate funds which are all approved at the annual meeting. When Mr. Milzer and Sue Huhn presented the budget at the annual meeting, the combined figure included an increase of 9.9%. When the State shifted some of the money it would have given the District into a School Tax Credit fund (which taxpayers will see as a separate credit line on their tax bill) , that bumped the figure upwards. Also included in that adjustment is consideration of the community's "wealth" as Mr. Milzer's memo outlines. When our numbers are reported to the State, the District must include debt service, recreation and operations in its figures.
I've already suggested to Mr. Milzer, and a few of my Board colleagues, that we need to change the way we prepare our budget so that there is more input from the community early in the process....not in mid-December. There are many mandates which the District must pay for. It would be interesting to have a discussion with the community about what it is willing to pay for beyond those mandates.
Thanks for your interest.
Email from Jim Milzer to Franklin BOE:
The District has received an update regarding the assessed valuation information from the City of Franklin. This is the last piece of information that we need to calculate the tax rate. The assessed value of the portion of Franklin that lies within the District increased by more than 7%, which was higher than we anticipated. Based on this new growth in the tax base, we have estimated that the tax rate for 2007 should be 4.2% higher than 2006. This would equate to a property tax increase of about $43 for every $100,000 of assessed value. This is less than we projected at the annual meeting. As you may recall, at that time we were projecting a 5.6% increase, or about $56 per $100,000 of assessed value.
As always, it is important to note that we estimate the increase in the tax rate so that we can let the community know the estimated increase in the property tax bills. As we discussed during the budget deliberations, there are two major reasons for the increase in the amount of revenue from property taxes this year. As we know, local tax revenue and revenue from the State make up almost all of the revenue that the District receives. For 2007-08, the percentage of revenue from the State decreased by 4%, or about $1.75 million. Essentially, the State is shifting $1.75 million of the cost of education to the community because they believe that the community can afford it better than other communities in the state. If the State had maintained its level of support, the tax rate would have decreased. Because of the funding mechanism set up by the State, as Franklin grows compared to other communities in the State, we will continue to receive less revenue from the State. The other major factor is that the state did not complete itâ€™s budget on time and although funding was provided for K-12 education, the state put the additional educational funding into the school tax levy credit rather than giving it directly to the school he effect of making the Districtâ€™s tax levy look almost $500,000 larger than it will be after the City adjusts the amount with the tax levy credit. Both of these factors; the state taking funding away, and the state putting funding into the tax levy credit, have resulted in an increase in the total tax levy from operations, debt service, and recreation of 11.7% overall. This is greater than the 9.9% increase projected in draft #1 of the budget due to the State moving our funding to the tax levy credit. Again, individual property tax bills will be much less than we originally anticipated.
David E. Szychlinski
Franklin School Board
With all due respect to my friend, Dave Szychlinski, this doesn’t cut it.
1) Dave writes: “As it turns out, Business Manager Jim Milzer received updated amounts from the state and communicated that to the Board this afternoon.”
Milzer first gave the Board new figures this afternoon??? The city was aware of the accurate numbers and reported them in a memo on November 29, 2007. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance knew about the numbers and reported them last Friday when I found out about them.
When did Milzer learn of the numbers and why was he first informing the Board of them this afternoon? Could it be because of stories on the blogs?
2) Dave writes: “The 11.7% figure in the Taxpayer Alliance report includes the cost of operating the Community and Recreation Department and the debt service which the District is paying for previous projects. Those are separate funds which are all approved at the annual meeting.”
That’s true, so why didn’t Milzer make the Board and the public aware of that information at the annual meeting months ago?
Dave Szychlinski told me the Board was told they were voting on a 5.9% increase.
Just what amount of increase did the Board approve? If it was 5.9%, why didn’t Milzer make the Board aware of the separate funds that raised the increase to 11.7%?
3) What is the actual increase that was approved and legally appropriate? The announced 5.9% or 11.7%? If it’s 11.7% and that appears to be the case, why was 5.9% announced to the Board and the public?
4) When did Milzer learn that the increase was 11.7%?
5) Without pressure from my blog, when was Milzer going to inform the Board and /or the public of the increase in the levy?
6) Why wasn’t the public informed?
7) Why didn’t the Board call and announce to the taxpaying public a special emergency meeting to discuss the updated amounts and hold a public hearing(s) on what to do about this development?
8) What other problems are being swept under the rug by this district and School Board?
9) Where is the outrage from School Board members who were not given all the updated or correct information before they made their most important vote of the year?
10) Jim Milzer is either inept, incompetent, or a scam artist. His late explanation is laughable, filled with the usual excuses of trying to pass the buck to the state. He needs to be held accountable and either asked to resign or fired. How can a local blogger, the city, and the Wisconsin taxpayers Alliance come up with correct budget figures before he does?
The response I received today was not satisfactory and I will be asking the City Attorney to look into the matter.
The School Board President told me in an e-mail the Board was told (by Milzer, I presume) that they were approving a 5.9% increase. The taxpayers are now on the hook for an 11.7% increase that the Franklin School Board never approved and never informed the public about.
This is scandalous.
*FRANKLIN'S ACTUAL SCHOOL TAX LEVY INCREASE NOT WHAT THE PUBLIC WAS TOLD*
By Kevin Fischer
Monday, Dec 10 2007, 05:12 PMThe school tax levy increase approved by the Franklin School Board is 11.7% and NOT 5.9% as citizens were told the night in October the Board adopted the 2007-08 school district budget.
The 11.7% school tax levy increase is based on a follow-up I did with the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) that, as I blogged last week, issued a report outlining the school tax levy increases for every school district in the state. Franklin’s was listed as 11.7%.
The WTA gets its figures from the state Department of Public Instruction (DPI). The DPI gets its numbers from the Franklin School District.
In a discussion I had with WTA Research Director Dale Knapp, he informed me that he double-checked the numbers with the DPI and the 11.7% figure is correct.
Knapp told me that analyzing the expenditure figures for Franklin, there is now way the tax levy increase could work out to 5.9%. Knapp told me the correct figure could only be somewhere between 11 and 13 %.
In a memo dated November 29, 2007 to the Franklin Mayor and Aldermen, Franklin Director of Finance and Treasurer Calvin Patterson writes, in part:
“All taxing jurisdictions have provided the required information to calculate the combined tax rates for the year 2007 tax bills.
The Oak Creek-Franklin school district has the largest percentage tax levy increase of 13.2% and as a result has the largest tax rate increase of 12.9%. The Franklin school district had the next largest percentage tax levy increase of 11.7% and as a result had the next largest tax rate increase of 9.2%.”
Over the weekend, I asked Franklin School Board President Dave Szychlinski to investigate the discrepancy in the numbers. He said he would get back to me and I trust he will, but hasn’t as of 5:00 this afternoon. Here is part of his e-mail to me:
I just saw your posting about the Taxpayers Alliance Report. Very curious. At the October Board meeting, we approved a total equalizedtax levy rate increase of 5.9%. I can assure you that I will ask JimMilzer and the business office to clarify for me on Monday. I'm notsure who is counting what..or if it's apples to apples...and while I don't have my budget documents here....I do remember that the budget document we received indicated +5.9%
This issue raises some very serious questions:
1) How did Franklin school district business manager Jim Milzer arrive at the 5.9% figure?
2) Were the Franklin School Board members advised they were voting on a 5.9% school tax levy increase, and if so, why?
3) Didn’t the Franklin School Board members know what they were voting for?
4) Can the Franklin School Board go back and correct this error?
This is extremely serious.
It reminds me of the Milwaukee County Board approving outrageous pensions, only to plead ignorance later, claiming they had no idea what they were voting for.
The WTA stands by their numbers. The city of Franklin has issued a memo quoting the 11.7% figure.
The 11.7% figure is DOUBLE the increase that the Franklin citizenry, and quite possibly, the Franklin School Board, was told the levy increase was going to be.
It is plausible that the Board, and subsequently, the taxpaying public were issued FALSE information.
In that case, there needs to be accountability. If Jim Milzer gave false information to voting members of the Board, he should resign or be terminated.
An increase of 5.9% was inexcusable. An actual increase of 11.7% when the public was promised for several weeks that the increase would be 5.6% is misconduct in office.
I anxiously await Dave Szychlinkski’s findings.