By Kevin Boneske
GREEN BAY – Pushback from local municipalities unhappy about the Brown County treasurer’s office announcing plans to discontinue first installment collections of property taxes has been felt by the county’s Administration Committee.
After hearing from some municipal officials and county supervisors, the committee backed a pair of resolutions Thursday, April 1, to continue that service.
County Treasurer Paul Zeller initially announced he planned to discontinue the first payment collections, beginning with the 2021 property taxes, which will be collected starting in December.
Zeller appeared before the committee to discuss what he called a “compromise” for his office to continue those first installment collections, which he said municipalities could be required to do under state law.
“The feedback received was from the municipalities that the towns had great difficulty with gearing up for property tax collection in December and that they were logistically and financially not able to do so,” Zeller said. “We got feedback from other municipalities that they didn’t want to carry out their statutory duties, and we also heard that there would be municipalities that are interested in paying for the service.”
Though the county treasurer would have no obligation under state law to collect first installment payments, which may be paid by Jan. 31 for a portion of the property taxes owed or the entire amount, for property owners making two payments, the county would still collect the second installments.
The resolution drafted by the treasurer’s office and backed by the committee would continue those first payment collections for towns and villages in the county collected the previous tax year, but no longer do so for the City of De Pere.
“That service is not going to be extended to every municipality, because we have capacity issues,” Zeller said. “We are not able to collect for all the municipalities that we have in the past, because we are no longer using banks to collect property taxes for the municipalities.”
The resolution calls for charging municipalities $1.60 per tax bill, as well as changing the treasurer’s office staffing for tax collection help by switching a limited term employee (LTE) from a full-time equivalent (FTE) of .6 at $12.50 per hour for 1,260 hours to an LTE with an FTE of 1.21 at $15 per hour for 2,520 hours.
When factoring in $24,270 projected in revenue from parcel fees, the treasurer’s office estimates there would be no impact on its annual budget.
In the event there would be any excess amounts collected to defray/offset related costs for continuing first installment property tax collections, the resolution also calls for using the additional revenue to add another tax collection window, pay for in-person taxpayer parking and cover the costs to issue refund checks and for software maintenance.
Committee Chairman Richard Schadewald said it’s not up to the committee as to whether the county treasurer’s office should collect first installment payments.
“The committee and I tried to work it out best we could to reach some kind of agreement, which we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “Times have changed, and things have changed.”
Committee members heard from District 17 Supervisor John Van Dyck, who questioned whether the county treasurer’s office would have additional work handling first installment property tax collections because banks no longer will be collecting them.
Van Dyck said the county treasurer’s office three years ago collected first installment payments for the entire county, but is currently not doing so for City of Green Bay and the Village of Howard.
“(Three years ago) that included, the Village of Howard – 7,560 parcels, that included the City of De Pere, 8,942 parcels, and it also included the City of Green Bay, 35,650 parcels,” he said. “That’s 53,000 parcels. At least a percentage of those 53,000 parcels were walking in the door and paying their bill here. Those are gone. Now we’re saying the ones that are paying at the bank are going to come here.”
Zeller said he expects there will be around 12,775 additional parcels for which the treasurer’s office would be collecting first installment payments, based on the number collected at banks this past winter.
“The property taxes, if I’m going to collect, are going to be under control of the treasurer’s office – in one location at the treasurer’s office,” he said. “How are we going to take 12,775 payments – in-person payments – and put those at the northern building in December and January?”
Van Dyke said he doesn’t understand why people who paid their first installment payments at banks would be considered additional ones the treasurer’s office would have to handle, but taxpayers who used to come to the office and pay their bills, but no longer do so in municipalities collecting property taxes, are not taken into consideration for staffing levels.
“We eliminated those people (from paying at the county treasurer’s office), now we’re going to add the ones from the bank,” he said. “I’m not quite sure I understand where we picked up any additional people coming in the door. I think we’re assuming. In addition to that, if you go back and look at the budget… the staffing level in the treasurer’s office has been the same for like the past eight years.”
Van Dyck said he would also expect the number of people paying property taxes online “has gone up tremendously over the last few years.”
“But now we need an additional 1.2 people to collect taxes all of a sudden?” he asked.
Van Dyck said the county treasurer’s office has collected first installment payments for several years, and if Zeller didn’t want to collect those payments, he shouldn’t have run for treasurer.
“If that was the position you were going to take (to discontinue collecting first installment payments), then maybe you should have made that known before you ran for office,” Van Dyke said to Zeller. “And maybe you should have made that position known before you petitioned this board for a much larger raise than what we actually gave.”
Van Dyck said he realizes the county treasurer has the authority to decide not to collect first installment payments for municipalities, but the county board can pass a resolution showing the public the board supports having the treasurer’s office continue collecting those payments.
“If the treasurer chooses not to do it, that’s his prerogative,” he said.
Van Dyck said the county treasurer’s office provides the service of collecting first installment payments “in an economical and efficient manner, and now we want to blow it up.”
“I don’t understand why we want to blow it up,” he said. “We’re making an erroneous assumption that 12,775 additional parcels and people are now going to walk through the door… I tell you, a lot of those people that we’re collecting for that are going to the bank are coming from the Village of Wrightstown, Village of Denmark, Town of Wrightstown and all those places out there. Well, if you think they’re going to jump in their car, where I live, and drive to downtown Green Bay to pay my damn tax bill, that’s not going to happen.”
At the county board’s March 17 meeting, Van Dyke requested the county corporation counsel prepare a resolution, similar to the resolutions already adopted by a number of municipalities, to call on the county treasurer to continue the current practice of collecting first installment property taxes for all municipalities desiring that service.
The resolution backed by Van Dyke and also recommended by the committee would put the county board on record to request the treasurer agree to once again collect taxes on behalf of local towns, villages and cities, similar to what has been done in the past through an intergovernmental agreement, and also work with those municipalities “to identify a multi-year plan to improve upon tax collection efficiency and effectiveness.”
Because that resolution wasn’t in a completed format, committee members agreed to hold a special meeting to act on the measure and forward it for consideration with the other resolution at this month’s county board meeting.
Ashwaubenon Village President Mary Kardoskee told the committee turning over first installment collections to municipalities would result in them incurring in additional costs, such as staffing and purchasing software.
“It’s going to cost us about $12,000 to do it,” she said. “It’s one of those things if you agree to pay the $1.60 per parcel, you will have to find it (in the budget).”
Kardoskee and De Pere Finance Director Joe Zegers, who also appeared before the committee, asked the county treasurer to extend the collection of first installment payments as they have been taking place for another year.