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Property Tax 101

The property tax process begins with the assessment. Assessments are conducted by the local municipality. In some Dane County municipalities these assessments are done annually. In others, particularly smaller ones, they are done every few years. It would be unusual to not have a reevaluation every 4 to 7 years.

The assessment represents the value of the property as of January 1 of a given year. After the assessment is completed (March or later, depending on whether a reevaluation is taking place), property owners are sent a notice of assessment. After receiving this notice, property owners have a limited period of time to discuss the assessment with the assessor and appeal to the Municipality's Board of Review. This is important because the property tax is calculated based on this assessment. After the period for appeal has passed, it would normally be too late for the property owner to appeal the amount of property tax. (NOTE: the notice of assessment will indicate value AND classification. In rural areas the classification can be important because of the different rate of assessment value placed on agricultural land, undeveloped land, and forestland.)

Wisconsin taxing districts (municipalities, schools, counties, etc.) set their budgets in the fall, usually November. After each district has set its levy for the next year, property taxes are calculated and bills are prepared. This means bills are usually received by the tax payer in mid-December. The deadline for making the first payment is the following January 31st.

Many property owners pay the full bill by December 31st. However, all that is required is that at least the first installment be paid by January 31 to the local municipality. For those who choose to pay in installments, the final installment is due by July 31. With the exception of properties in the City of Madison, the final installment is paid directly to the county. Payment information (amount, due dates, who to pay, etc.) can be found on the tax bill sent in December.

Please note that the City of Madison does have intermediate installments. Moreover, payments for properties within the City of Madison are collected by the City through the July 31 due date. Information regarding the City of Madison due dates and amounts for the current tax year can be obtained by contacting the City of Madison Treasurer:

City of Madison Treasurer
City-County Building
210 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, Rm 107
Madison, WI 53703-3342
City of Madison Treasurer's Website

If at least the installment amount is not paid by the due date listed on the tax bill and the taxes become delinquent, the following occurs: (1) the full amount comes due immediately, and (2) a combined monthly interest and penalty of 1.5% of the unpaid principal is added back to February 1. This charge accrues at the beginning of each month until the bill is paid in-full. If a property owner is late with the final installment, the monthly interest and penalty still goes back February 1st, which means an August interest and penalty for 7 months (7 x 1.5% = 10.5%). Each month afterward, the outstanding principal balance is charged another 1.5%. In determining whether a payment is timely, the treasurer's office does go by the postmark affixed by the US postal service.