‘Apologizing doesn’t really do anything for your pocketbook’: Monroe taxpayers exploring options after school referendum costs them hundreds

MONROE, Wis. — Taxpayers in Monroe say it’s not over after the school district told them there’s nothing they could do to fix the hundreds of dollars in increased property taxes they’ve seen – different than the rate they put on a referendum that passed in November.

“When my taxes came in and I saw how much they had increased, I was shocked,” said Jan Lefevre, who’s been living in Monroe for 32 years.

On Wednesday night Lefevre was one of the dozens of residents hoping to turn her shock into action, trying to fix the problem started by a misleading property tax figure for the $88 million referendum.

RELATED: ‘We failed’: Monroe School District apologizes to voters for misleading referendum communication

We first reported how the referendum rate of $.13/$1000 (or $13/$100,000) was based on 2021 home values. Nearly all homes had increased in value this year, however, and all of those homes were then taxed at the full mill rate of $9.33/$1000, or $933/$100,000.

In other words, a home valued at $200,000 in 2021 and then saw its fair market value raised to $240,000 in 2022 would have a school referendum tax rate of $26 for the first $200,000 — and $373.20 for the extra $40,000.

“My taxes were actually $677 more just for that referendum passing,” organizer Dale Howarth said.

RELATED: ‘I feel we were misled’: The aftermath of a school referendum in Monroe

“They can do something about it, yeah,” Lefavre said.

But according to Howarth, the district told them they can’t.

“We got another email and website post saying there’s nothing they can do about it,” he said. “They can’t repeal a referendum, they can’t redo a referendum, if they did, it would go up in cost even more.”

In a response from the district to this report, the district said they published an FAQ about the referendum following a school board meeting on the 9th. In it, they say there is no legal procedure to reverse the referendum, but that the board could pass a new resolution and hold another referendum for the new high school. It wouldn’t replace the currently-passed referendum, but would give the board additional authorization to issue more bonds or debt.

“We continue to be transparent with the community. There was no intention to mislead anyone.  The people who shared and presented information about the referendum are known and respected in the community for their commitment and dedication to making Monroe a great place to live, work, and raise a family,” superintendent Rodney Figueroa said in an email.

“They are also people of strong character and high integrity.  This is a difficult situation for the entire community and we are working to make sure the way forward is the best way for the future of the community.”

After our initial report on the tax confusion, the Monroe School District apologized to taxpayers in a two-page letter.

“We were a little let down — they apologized profusely, but apologizing doesn’t really do anything for your pocketbook,” Howarth said.

Howarth said he contacted the Wisconsin Elections Commission (WEC), which he said told him the district can repeal the increase. As a result, he believes the taxpayers’ options include filing a complaint with the WEC or going to the conservative legal firm the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL), to see if they’ll take a case against the district pro-bono.

“So, we will proceed. I mean we want to resolve this as peacefully as possible and hopefully bring this community back together, because it is a big divide right now,” Howarth said.

Community members said the tax increases are a deep cut with a city full of younger families with limited income, new homeowners, and senior citizens.

“One woman called me and she was in tears,” Lefavre said, “she’s retired and she says ‘I might as well do myself in.’ I said don’t do that, but come to the meetings, we’ll talk.”