Milwaukee homeowners 'astounded' by property tax increases amid COVID

Some City of Milwaukee property owners are at a loss after getting their 2020 property tax bills as the city's assessment commissioner points to rising home sale prices, particularly in neighborhoods like Harambee, Bay View and Riverwest. But for some residents, their rising assessments and tax bills hard to stomach.

If you're in the market for a house, you know that it's a hot one, with the COVID-19 pandemic not cooling home sales. 

The Wisconsin Realtors Association says the state's on a record pace as low inventory push sale prices higher, and the city says it's one of the drivers behind the rising assessments and property tax bills.

Tom Austroe

"I was astounded -- 61% increase from last year," said Tom Austroe of Riverwest.

Austroe was born in his 100-plus-year-old duplex in Riverwest. The 65-year-old FedEx retiree on Social Security suffered sticker shock as his 2020 tax bill totals more than $6,400.

"It’s a lot for everybody in these stressed economic times," said Austroe.

Marisol Guerrero

Six miles to the south, Marisol Guerrero's tax bill went up by 37%.

"I was in shock," said Guerrero. "I couldn’t believe it."

Both Guerrero and Austroe's property assessments went up in 2020 by $67,000 and $92,000 respectively. Guerrero appealed, hired a broker and is waiting for the Board of Review to make a decision.

"Not $260,000," said Guerrero. "That’s definitely not a value I was thinking they would assess my property at, and I can’t imagine what some of the other residents around my neighborhood, what kind of bill they got."

Steve Miner

"As the market keeps changing, we keep running our reports and see the increase in prices and it’s pretty significant," said Milwaukee Assessment Commissioner Steve Miner.

Miner pointed to hot housing neighborhoods like Riverwest, Harambee and Bay View, low interest rates, inventory and bidding wars trending assessments upward even before the pandemic.

In 2019, about 2,000 appealed their assessments compared to 5,600 in 2020 -- a backlog that is still being sorted out. With the first 2020 tax payments due in January and another assessment in the wings, Guerrero said she hopes for a fair resolution.

"I did my homework and that’s what sucks, as not everybody can do that," she said.

You can't appeal your 2020 tax bill, as the window for appealing your assessment closed last spring. The Board of Review will be working through 2021 on its 2020 appeals, and the city says property owners should pay the taxes as shown on the recent tax bill. 

If the Board of Review changes the assessment, refunds will be mailed.