MMSD can increase property taxes to pay for the parks system without limit
Ald. Bob Bauman let the cat out of the bag at recent transportation meeting
May 30, 2023
By Bill Osmulski
Local officials in Milwaukee are planning to exploit a loophole in state law that could lead to unlimited property tax increases across four counties in support of Milwaukee County Parks.
The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District (MMSD) is responsible for wastewater management in the greater Milwaukee area. MMSD has taxing authority, which allows it to levy property taxes. However, MMSD is not subject to any levy limits and does not answer to voters, a fact which now has local leaders scheming.
Milwaukee County is working on a plan to transfer the county parks department to MMSD. That would free up over $40 million from the county’s budget. MMSD could then raise property taxes to cover those expenses without limit. Milwaukee City Alderman Bob Bauman let the cat out of the bag during a recent transportation meeting.
“There actually is a plan for that, albeit one with some challenges. That is to offload the park system onto the sewage commission,” Bauman said during a May 10th meeting (46:25).
“We’re actually conducting that study,” a county official admitted.
“Yes, I know. And that’s actually a very interesting idea, because the sewage commission currently has a property tax levy authority without levy limits and regional-wide operating revenue stream,” Bauman added.
MMSD’s total 2023 budget is $350 million, and over a third of that comes from property taxes.
MMSD’s total tax levy in 2023 is $135 million, and the tax rate is $1.36 per $1,000. That’s $272 for a $200,000 home, and $408 for a $300,000 home. Adding the county parks department to MMSD could increase the tax levy by over 30% and add hundreds of dollars to individual property tax bills.
Milwaukee County and MMSD have already been testing the waters on whether the public will tolerate such a plan. MMSD is finishing up a $39 million project to replace the concrete channel along the Kinnickinnic River in Pulaski Park. Somehow the county convinced MMSD to include upgrading recreational areas as well.
“As part of the agreement, the District replaced park features impacted by the reconstruction of the KK River channel and flood storage areas. These include a pedestrian bridge, basketball courts, playground, trails, and other natural areas,” according to MMSD’s current budget.
MMSD also has a flood mitigation project at Jackson Park that somehow turned into a park upgrade project for the county. MMSD is building a new $750,000 boat house and is converting the old boathouse into an open-air pavilion. It’s also giving the county $2.75 million for a new swimming pool.
While the county is scheming to dump its park system onto unsuspecting taxpayers, Republican state lawmakers are working feverishly to bailout the county from its pension problems by giving it the authority to create a new 0.375% sales tax and increase its annual shared revenue payment by $6.8 million.