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Merrill Holds An Information Tax Rate Meeting

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MERRILL, WI (WSAU) -- Another meeting was held on the topic of the City of Merrill's 2018 budget.

The common council meeting Tuesday evening was to understand how tax increment district financing works and how it affects a city budget.

The meeting included a presentation from Ehlers, an advising firm that helps the city with their finances. There has been plenty of miscommunication about the city's budget over the past month. It began when Mayor Derek Woellner proposed a 3% tax levy increase after a veto of the original budget. But due to incorrect numbers from the city's finance director, the tax levy increased by over 4%. 

Much of those numbers were regarding tax increment districts and how they impact a city's budget.

Mayor Woellner explains more about the incorrect numbers. "The numbers that we were being given by the financial director there's a reason they were wrong and that was compounded by the fact that TID's weren't included. So the TID's had created an impact and it took that already wrong number and made it even more wrong. So that's how we get that jump from 3% to 7.4%"

Woellner admits that he helped to cause some of the confusion with the tax rates. "I think I might have contributed to some of the public's misunderstanding about it because I didn't fully understand that a 3% levy increase could result in a 7.4% tax bill increase. I guess I should have done more of my due diligence to find out what could actually happen this year."

Woellner and several council members were under the impression that the 3% levy increase was the entire tax bill increase. But the tax rate increase included a couple other factors. Woellner wished those that knew there was more to the rate increase would have spoken up. "The public was under the impression that the levy increase was the percent they would see on their tax bill. I wish someone that had known that that wasn't the case would have stepped in at that time and corrected it. And then it fooled me, it fooled some of the council members. We were just taken by surprise at the rate that it ended up being."

Woellner believes it was important to give the public an explanation from a third party about how the tax rate increase became 7.4%. He said that it was good to hear from Ehlers as they gave an outside perspective. "It was important to have a third party come and the council to be able to have this discussion with them. And the public is involved as well because there are some trust issues. We were given the wrong numbers. And we really had to hear it from a third party."

While there were many miscommunications along the way, Mayor Woellner is glad the city tried to be more transparent with the budget process. Even if it did fail for this year. "We are sorry we got it wrong this time around. I don't regret doing it. We wanted to be transparent, to tell people what to expect. We just didn't have the right numbers with us. So I'm glad that we took that risk, tried to be transparent. We failed but we'll try again next year and I think we'll get it right."

He expressed that city taxpayers need to be given the information they need on tax increases to inform their representatives on how to vote for their constituents. Moving forward Mayor Woellner does expect the city to be more transparent about the budgeting process.

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