Thursday, October 30, 2008

I did a little research today...

It's easy in the City of Waukesha to research information on the ownership, price-paid, tax valuation, estimated full market value, as well as details on year-built, lot size, amenities, square footage of any residential property. All you need to know is the address. When a "sold" sign goes up on the real estate agent's sign, you can quickly learn what it just sold for.

Try it yourself: go to this link and plug in your own address.

I did it with a piece of information printed in some of the sludge-on-newsprint bundled with the daily Waukesha Freeman (disclaimer: I do not buy the Freeman: I can't use it; I have very little fish to wrap. I found it on the counter in the coffee shop this morning).

In a listing of recent sales/closings of real estate in City of Waukesha was this notation:
October 24, 2008 -- 2701 Sandra Lane -- $190,000.

The details were all there in the link (above) when I plugged in that address. It is a Condo:

Year built -- 1999
Last Sale -- May, 2003 -- $205,900
"Valid" sale -- means that it was an arm's-length (willing selller/willing buyer) transaction, not an "I sold it to my son for a buck" exchange.
Assessed Value -- $235,400. This was its valuation on the 2008 tax bill.
Total estimated Fair Market Value -- $257,700. This is an informal update to assessed valuation, hinting at what the owner would likely pay taxes on in a year in which all property is re-assessed. It goes w/o saying that it isn't in actually touch with present reality.
Recent Sale -- October 24, 2008, what was reported in the Freeman this morning: $190,000.

There is likely a very sad, if not painful, story here. The recent sellers' names are in the information, and they have my sympathy. It is public information. Just five years ago they paid Sixteen Thousand dollars more than they realized from the sale this week. Add in $8 or $10 thousand in selling expenses and it looks like economic slaughter. It is not unlikely they had to bring money to the closing.

What does this mean for thee and me?

If this keeps up (even though only a small minority of owners are selling their homes) the assessment process will use this and similar current sales information to gauge the value of all similar homes in the city at the time of the next re-assessment. That is likely to be scheduled within a year or two. The net effect of lots of properties currently languishing unsold or changing hands for severely depressed prices, will drive down everyone else's valuation. And the City of Waukesha's total tax base will shrink. For decades it has grown, every year, year-after-year. Now, it is beginning to contract.

And the cost of government: Municipal, County, Schools, VTAE will be spread over fewer-than expected households, less tax base

In the past, homeowners met higher valuations of their property with mixed emotions. They typically enjoyed the notion of their property being worth more (on the assumption that the assessor's valuation was correct and that one could realistically expect to sell the property for the assessed amount or more). And they knew from experience that when the tax base is expandinging (that's what sprawl is all about) tax rates do not usually go up very much since there are more properties/taxpayers on whom the costs are spread.

There is every reason to believe that--with a huge number of houses in Waukesha for sale-- that other sellers are hearing their own personal real estate bubble POP as they take whatever offer comes their way.

A very nice house on the block where I live has been vacant for ten months, the owners-- now living in Menominee Falls--are paying on two mortgages. They came down a dime, will probably have to come down another quarter before it sells. I see them regularly, as they come back to the neighborhood to keep the landscape in ship-shape.

The anxiety is palpable.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.
Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A small, obscure report and a bit of history on delinquent taxes in Waukesha County...

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I asked Waukesha City Treasurer, Thomas Neill two weeks ago about how tax collections were holding up.

He wrote back:
Amount of real estate billed for 2007 (all taxing districts) $111,506,208. Amount turned over to the County on 7/31/08 was $773,879 (they make us whole and collect from that point on).
I do not have data readily available from prior years, but the County Treasurer might. I believe the amount uncollected from year to year is pretty consistent!

Background: The City of Waukesha sends out a tax bill that bundles together the bills for all the local taxing authorities--County Govt., WCTC, School District and Municipality. Same procedure for each city, town and village in Waukesha County.

Anyone who has not paid in full by July 31 is delinquent. The practice, embedded in State Law (see Wisconsin Statutes 74.57) is that the County Treasurer receives all the money collected by the end of July and disburses the amounts to each taxing authority. The County sends the full amount of the budgeted and assessed taxes to the City of Waukesha and all the others, even though some taxes are delinquent. That's what Neil meant by "...they make us whole....".

Tax collections on the late payers becomes the task of the County Treasurer. Because the penalties and interest on unpaid taxes are stiff, a lot of delinquent taxes get paid fairly quickly--to avoid further financial loss. And the Treasurer keeps the penalty money to finance the debt-collection work.

Our elected County Treasurer, Pam Reeves, provided some more information: once all the tax-supported entities had been "made whole" out of county funds (that is, they received monies equal to the amount levied by each taxing authority) she computes how much still has to be wrung out of the tax deadbeats. The amount of unpaid taxes for 2008 budget year is $9,762,678.34. And that's reported to the County Board, as displayed above.

So far, everything seems to be proceeding as expected. What Reeves showed me that I didn't expect is the large increase both in the number of delinquencies and in the aggregate total of taxes that are delinquent. Reeves, thoughtfully, penciled in the percent increase for 2007 over 2006. That's a big jump, almost 30 percent. And 2006 was 16 percent higher than the previous year, which was 13 percent higher than the year before that.

Looks like a trend. Relax, gentle reader; it isn't ugly...yet. But if the trend continues it will, indeed, be ugly.

As foreclosures increase, there will be more delinquencies...
As houses get sold for a fraction of their assessed value in foreclosure actions, the tax assessor's valuations will--by law--decrease...
As the aggregate assessed value of real estate in any given municipality decreases, the tax burden will fall on diminishing tax base...
As the tax base diminishes, the tax rate per thousand of assessed value will increase...

The key word is exponential.

And the last word on "exponential" is the ineffable wisdom of Dr Albert Bartlett of the University of Colorado at Boulder:

"The greatest shortcoming of the human race is our inability to understand the exponential function."

Saturday, October 11, 2008

This one is gonna vote for...

That One.

I deny that I had any hand in the (s)election of George W. Bush eight years ago, merely because I voted for Ralph Nader (and went to jail over my right to assert my position). And I continue to assert that no other Nader voter has any culpability for the rise of GWB.

Nevertheless, I call attention to the Obama/Biden political sign on my front lawn.

Note that it appears on the "gospel" side of the lawn. The bride controls the gospel side; and it is she who initially asserted support for Barack Obama. But, I have no Nader sign on the epistle side, nor will I plant one.

I'm gonna vote for the Democrat.

The victory may go to the Republican candidate and running mate. It is possible, though, today it does not seem likely.

The victory--no matter who wins--is likely to be on a close vote.

I still prefer Nader, for reasons I stated earlier this year, before either major party had chosen their nominee. But, in the present surreal world of American politics, wrapped in economic chaos, stewing in racial hysteria, inches from complete breakdown, which
...Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

I'll take that one.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Rowen's take on Water politics in Waukesha--with a kicker from Water Blogged....

What is likely to be quite troublesome for the Waukesha Water Utility over the next few years is that it has been virtually run by one guy for most of the past 21 years. A guy whose judgment seems to be increasingly--exponentially--faulty.

Daniel Warren, Water Utility President, runs what he believes is a tight ship.

o Over the past four years, there has been virtually absolute unanimity on the key decisions. Warren makes up an agenda that calls for a Closed (secret) meeting, and there's never a dissent, never a peep questioning the necessity/propriety of making still more faulty, in secret, decisions-- like those Jim Rowen recounted in this recent Political Environment blog post.

o He was investigated and found in violation of the Wisconsin Open Meetings Law twenty seven months ago. Lackluster lightweight DA, Paul Bucher, (who has, mercifully, moved on) let him off the hook with a "give-a-hundred-bucks-to-charity" non-penalty.

o He has a key role in an evolving mess of financial jiggery-pokery at the Waukesha School Board (where he was recently installed as president). In 2006, as chairman of the School District Finance Committee, he made the case to the others on the School Board for borrowing money to invest in wildly speculative investments in CDOs--those once-nifty-now-worthless turds in the Wall Street punchbowl that underlie the current world-wide economic cataclysm.

o He is one the key actors in the development of Pabst Farms (evincing yet more faulty judgment).

o Twenty months ago he demonstrated astonishingly bad judgment and an unexpected recklessness by lurching into his SUV, and attempting to weave his way home on Hwy 16, late on a Saturday night with a BAC of 0.138, otherwise known as "shitfaced" and fallingdowndrunk.

It's time for Dan Warren to accept the thanks of this community for decades of work (a great deal of it quite competent and certainly useful) on the Waukesha Water Utility Commission and leave the remaining work of finding solutions to pressing problems to a diverse and broadly-experienced group of citizens. He should decline any nomination to a continued role as president during the last year of his current term.

It is also time for the Waukesha Common Council to see to expanding (and term-limiting) the membership of the Water Utility Commission. Warren has been able to dominate Commission decision making because it is packed (40%) with ex-officio members from the mayor's office and the Common Council and two other citizen-members, neither of whom shows much potential for leadership.

If Waukesha is to come to some resolution of its water supply and water quality problems, it will best be done by a new group of citizens and municipal leaders with common sense and a concern about living in the real world, citizens who are skeptical of development pipe dreams, consultant-driven schemes, and customer-be-damned secrecy in finding the right path to a solution to this community's water supply and water quality problems.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Down deep....

Down deep, where they connect with other Americans....

Down deep, where we try to connect with them as fellow human beings....

Down deep, where we listen for the indicators that they really understand what America is about....

Down Deep? They're shallow.

Vote Nader.
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Of the biblical allotment of three score and ten I have lived only three of them more than a bicycle ride from one of the Great Lakes. I grew up ten blocks from Lake Erie in the (once Irish/Italian ghetto, now newly-hip) "Near West Side" of Cleveland. I can still cycle to the Milwaukee lakefront in an hour and a half; but, a round-trip has always been more than I would (noror ever did) attempt. -0- I'm a "...somewhat combative pacifist and fairly cooperative anarchist," after the example of Grace Paley (1922-2007). -0- I'm always cheerful when I pay my taxes (having refused--when necessary--to pay that portion of them dedicated to war). -0- And I always, always vote.