January/February 2022 Issue
Also in this issue: Final ARPA Rule May Facilitate Infrastructure Projects to Provide Government Services | Court Upholds Milwaukee's Decision to Terminate Licenses for Gas Station Found to Be a Nuisance
Wisconsin Supreme Court: Municipalities Not Entitled to Certiorari Review of Tax Assessments
Storm B. Larson | 01.28.22
A recent decision from the Wisconsin Supreme Court restricts a municipality’s ability to challenge tax determinations rendered by a local board of review. In State of Wisconsin ex rel. City of Waukesha v. City of Waukesha Board of Review, 2021 WI 89, the Wisconsin Supreme Court unanimously held that the City of Waukesha (“the City”) was not entitled to seek certiorari review of a tax assessment determination of the City’s Board of Review (“the Board”).
This case stemmed from a property valuation disagreement between the City and the Salem Methodist Church over a piece of church-owned property (“the Property”). In 2017, the City assessed the Property at $51,900. The City reassessed it in 2018 at $642,200 because the church decided to list it for sale. Given the assessment jump, the church filed an objection with the Board and claimed that the Property was actually worth $108,655. The Board agreed with the church’s valuation and concluded it was worth $108,700. Thus, the Board rejected the City’s reassessment figure.
What came next is the critical juncture in the litigation: the City filed an appeal with the Waukesha County Circuit Court and invoked Wis. Stat. § 70.47(13) which governs certiorari review of Board determinations. Wis. Stat. § 70.47(13) provides that appeals from board decisions must be “commenced within 90 days after the taxpayer receives notice [of the board’s determination].” (emphasis added). Notably, it makes no mention of whether a city or municipality may commence certiorari review.
The church moved to dismiss the appeal, arguing that the statute only granted taxpayers a right to seek certiorari review — not municipalities. The circuit court rejected that argument and granted certiorari review. The circuit court then found that the City’s 2018 reassessment was reasonable and reinstated it. The church appealed this decision to the Wisconsin Court of Appeals which reversed the circuit court’s decision and held that Wis. Stat. § 70.47(13) did not grant the City a right to appeal. The City then appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court which ultimately affirmed the decision of the court of appeals.
Writing for a unanimous Supreme Court, Justice Ann Walsh Bradley concluded that certiorari review was unavailable to the City under the statute’s plain wording. According to the Supreme Court, the statute’s reference to “taxpayer” and lack of reference to “municipality” conclusively resolved the issue. The Supreme Court reasoned that when the legislature intends to grant municipalities an avenue for relief, it does so unambiguously as it has in other contexts such as zoning determinations under Wis. Stat. § 62.23(7)(e)10. State of Wisconsin ex rel. City of Waukesha v. City of Waukesha Board of Review thus provides important clarification to municipalities which seek to challenge tax assessment determinations.
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