Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:35 pm
The Milwaukee Country Club would see its annual property tax bill increase by almost $63,000 if the River Hills assessor agrees with a Wisconsin Department of Revenue report on the property’s equalized value. The 197-acre property located at 8000 N. Range Line Road and along the Milwaukee River is currently assessed at $4.94 million. However, a Department of Revenue report says the property’s equalized value is $7.683 million, 35.7 percent higher than the assessed value.
"That’s what it should be (assessed at)," said Robert Chernow, a former River Hills trustee who last year filed a complaint with the state about the Milwaukee Country Club assessment, saying it was too low.
"That’s a reasonable assessment," said Chernow, who has since moved to Grafton.
River Hills village manager Tom Tollaksen said the state’s report will be taken into consideration by village assessor Jerry Bailey when he assesses the Milwaukee Country Club property next year. State law mandates that the assessed values for each class of properties in a municipality must be no more than 10 percent higher or 10 percent lower than the equalized value. The Milwaukee Country Club is one of only two commercial properties in River Hills. The other is River Tennis Club, 8188 N. Green Bay Road.
The country club currently pays a property tax rate of $22.88 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. Therefore, based on the current assessment, the country club pays about $113,027 in annual property taxes. If the property was reassessed at $7.683 million, the property’s equalized value as determined by the state, the country club would pay $175,787 in property taxes.
Milwaukee County Club general manager George Saites did not return a call from SBT seeking comment for this report.
If the assessed value of the Milwaukee Country Club increases at a significantly higher rate than others in the village and county, a larger amount of the property tax burden will be shifted onto the club. That will result in a higher tax payment for the country club, but will benefit other property taxpayers who would shoulder a slightly smaller property tax burden.
"What we’re interested in is having a fair assessment for all property," Tollaksen said. "We don’t look to the assessment process as a means of raising revenue."
Bailey, who has been the village assessor since 1992, said he has not yet reviewed the state’s report on the country club property.
"I haven’t even looked at it yet," he said.
Bailey said he will review the state’s report when he does the assessment for the club property next year.
However, when asked if he thought the current assessment for the Milwaukee Country Club was correct, Bailey said, "Yes."
The property’s assessed value was just under $3.3 million in 1990, according to village records. After a reassessment, the assessed value for the Milwaukee Country Club jumped up to almost $6.2 million in 1991.
The country club and its attorney, Foley & Lardner LLP partner Timothy C. Frautschi, argued that the 1991 assessment was too high. It was lowered to $4.9 million in 1992 and then to $3.8 million in 1994.
That upset Chernow, who began to fight the assessment for the country club, saying it had unfairly shifted the tax burden off of the club and onto other properties in the village and county.
"What happened was that the appraiser was, in my opinion, tricked by the clever ploy of the Milwaukee Country Club’s attorney (Frautschi)," Chernow said in a letter last year to River Hills village president Bob Brunner. "The attorney has the club valued only as land at a low cost of $100,000 per five-acre lot. Then he had all of the improvements removed and added to the cost of demolition."
Frautschi did not return a phone call seeking comment.
According to Chernow, Frautschi argued that the property would be worth less if it was developed for a subdivision. River Hills has a five-lot minimum for homes. Frautschi argued five-acre lots on the country club property would sell for about $100,000. He also argued that the value of the buildings on the property should be ignored and the cost to demolish them should be subtracted from the property value, because that would be necessary to turn the property into a housing development.
"(Frautschi) is very good and should be applauded for his work," Chernow told SBT. "He did a good job."
However, the assessed value for the property was incorrect and was therefore unfair to other property taxpayers, Chernow said.
"In my opinion, the appraisal was done very, very poorly," he said.
Bailey said he could not remember why the assessed value for the country club was reduced in the 1990s.
The country club was built in 1929. It has an 18-hole golf course, a 60,000-square-foot clubhouse, tennis courts, two old farm houses and several support buildings.
Golf Digest magazine ranks the Milwaukee Country Club as the 48th-best golf course in the nation.
According to the Department of Revenue report, the Milwaukee Country Club has 444 members. Last year, 13,110 rounds of golf were played at the club, down from 17,553 in 1997, the report said.
Although Frautschi and the club argued that the assessment should be based on the value of the property if it was converted to a residential subdivision, the state Department of Revenue report says its current use as an exclusive private country club is the highest and best use of the property.
Any property owner can challenge an assessment. Challenges are decided by the village’s Board of Review.
Milwaukee Country Club
– September 30, 2005, Small Business Times, Milwaukee, WI