Milwaukee County, including some of its most affluent suburbs, had a double-digit increase in the percentage of property owners unable to pay their tax bills in 2007, a trend that began last year with a 26% surge in the value of tax delinquencies in the county’s suburbs alone.
In all, 17,960 Milwaukee County properties were delinquent as of September on taxes levied for the current year, up 14% from 15,754 as of September 2006. The City of Milwaukee and 14 of its 18 suburbs posted double-digit percentage increases in delinquencies, representing almost $37 million in unpaid taxes this year.
Much of the blame has been levied on the mortgage crisis, in which a proliferation of nontraditional mortgages and predatory lending practices over the last two years have put many buyers – even those in higher income brackets – in over their heads.
But economists and credit counselors point to numerous pressures in a weak economy where minimal wage gains are being eaten away by the rising cost of everything from food and utilities to mortgages and taxes. Since late summer 2006, ground beef prices have risen by 6.7%, chicken breasts by 6.9% and whole milk by 26%, and the federal Energy Information Administration on Tuesday predicted an 11% increase in Midwest winter heating bills.
What else has gone up?
A few dismissed the notion that rising tax bills played a role, though Milwaukee County taxpayers owed at least $35 million more in taxes this year than last, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.
“The tax bill doesn’t go up enough to cause that problem,” said Chris Swartz, village manager in Shorewood, where delinquent property owners owed an average of $6,600 a parcel, second only to River Hills.
Of course not. Given the choice between heat, food, fuel, and property tax bills, where do you think people’s priorities lie?
No doubt the municipal officials are ready to pillory private industry for forcing people to choose to spend their money on non-essentials.