Verona homeowners will pay an average of $135 more in taxes after city assessor makes error

City assessor apologizes for error
Verona homeowners will pay an average of $135 more in taxes after city assessor makes error

Verona residents will pay more on their property tax bills after the city assessor admitted he added an extra zero on a form online for a tax incremental financing district.

“I feel terrible, but I’m not the only one responsible here,” City Assessor Paul Musser told News 3. He said three other city officials were supposed to review the numbers as well.

The “data-keypunch” error changed how city finances looked to state officials. That means a Verona resident who owns a $272,000 home will pay $134.50 more in tax bills than they would have otherwise, according to a email News 3 obtained from finance director Brian Lamers.

For a $272,000 home, the tax increase in total after the change in several other credits will be $142.60. If the error had not happened, the increase would have been $8.10, according to Lamers.

During a Common Council meeting on Nov. 19, Musser explained how the error happened.

“It’s an online reporting form, so when I put in the amount for TIF 8, In my mind I was putting $5,476,000 or something, but I must have hit the zero up to $54 million, so it’s a data-keypunch error. That’s the majority of it,” he said.

Verona Common Council went into closed session on Nov. 26 to discuss Musser’s contract. He has done re-evaluations for the city of Verona since 1985.

“I can understand why (city officials) are angry and upset,” he said. “But it’s not just my fault.”

City Administrator Jeff Mikorski said he wants to be transparent about the situation and is working to find a solution.

“Nobody’s happy with this whole situation — how it’s evolved and transpired,” Mikorski said.

The city will get an extra $1.1 million in taxpayer dollars because of the error, he said. However, city officials cannot refund the money to taxpayers because of state statute.

“The state did tell us that we had to collect the taxes to the amount that was reported on the report. Any less would be a short run, and it would be taken out of the city’s levy,” Mikorski explained.

Mayor Luke Diaz said the city is going to figure out how to use the money for the public good, but that might be “more challenging than usual.”

During a Common Council meeting, Evan Touchett, who represents District 4, expressed concerns about Musser’s attitude.

“I’m extremely concerned with our assessor and what seems like to me a casual attitude towards what I consider a major error that is impacting every city resident that owns property in Verona,” Touchett said.

He added, “I’m very much encouraged to — I’ll put it out there — find a different assessor.”

Musser said he had to review the TIF information in August but did not catch the error. He said first learned about the error in October.

“It got across everybody’s radar and went in as a $55 or so million dollar error or overstatement, so by October, that’s when we found out about it,” he said.

Musser said he is allowed to amend the form to the state up to Dec. 31 and did so by Nov. 1, but the state did not correct the error.

“Apparently that doesn’t make a difference with the state whether you amend it or not. I don’t know why they let you amend it when you can’t do anything about it after that,” Musser said.

Mikorski said the Wisconsin Department of Revenue told the city corrections needed to be made by August.

Musser is also the city assessor for Middleton, the town of Middleton and Milton.

Middleton City Administrator Mike Davis said Musser has worked for Middleton for 36 years and had announced earlier this year that he intended to retire from Middleton Jan. 1. At that time, Musser said he plans to continue working with the other municipalities.

He is under a four-year contract with Verona and scheduled to do a re-evaluation for the city in 2020.

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