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Homeowners in West Allis-West Milwaukee School District complain about uneven property tax hike

NEW BERLIN -- Homeowners in part of the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District got a lump of coal this Christmas in the form of a big tax increase.

The district raised its mill rate, which is directly tied to the tax rate, by 12.5 percent this year, according to state data. But neighbors in the portion of the City of New Berlin that's in the West Allis district face an 18.4 percent increase and are upset about the disparity.

"If I didn't have all gray hair, I would have all gray hair," said John Molling during an interview in his New Berlin home. "I think it's criminal! I'm paying 50 percent more (of an increase) than they are."

The district's spokeswoman, Beth Koehler, did not respond to FOX6 News' questions about the tax increase or agree to set up an interview with Superintendent Marty Lexmond. Instead, she responded to multiple requests for comment by emailing a screenshot of a website showing the district's offices would be closed between Christmas and New Year's Day.

Faced with declining state aid amid falling enrollment numbers and reduced district spending, West Allis-West Milwaukee increased its tax rate by 12.5 percent, said Tom McCarthy, a DPI spokesman.

New Berlin homeowners are shouldering more of the burden for the tax hike than residents in West Allis, said Ralph Chipman, New Berlin's finance director.

Last year, the state's equalized value estimate showed properties in New Berlin made up 7 percent of the entire value of the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District. This year, New Berlin property values rose more quickly than in West Allis and accounted for 7.3 percent of the overall district's value, according to state DPI documents provided to FOX6 News by Chipman.

"As soon as we saw (the documents showing equalized values), we said, 'We're going to hear about this," Chipman said.

The increase left Molling paying $459 more this year on the school portion of his property tax bill. He said he's talked with 10 of his neighbors who also paid the 18.4 percent increase.

"One of my neighbors, his bill went up over $500, but everybody paid the darn bill," Molling said. "I don’t know that I exactly understand the whole thing about the mill rate and all those numbers, but there just seems to be something radically wrong ."

Municipalities sent out tax bills earlier in December across the region. In some cities and counties, the deadline for payment is approaching.

To see the 2016-2017 district-by-district rates on the state Department of Public Instruction website, click here. For the 2017-2018 rates, click here.