Urban Forestry Special Charge

The Madison City Council has created and adopted a special charge for the urban forestry program. The special charge is collected as part of the municipal services bill issued monthly by the Madison Water Utility. This bill also includes water utility, sewer utility, and stormwater utility charges. The special charge will be $4.59 per residential household, per month beginning in January 2019. The moneys generated by this special charge will support the increased costs of urban forestry services and protect the vital services the urban forest provides. The information below provides specific details on this special charge. If you have further questions, please call (608) 243-5899.

Special Charge Policy

Background

The purpose of this policy is to set forth the mechanism by which the City of Madison will apportion the Urban Forestry Special Charge to all real property in the City. The Urban Forestry Special Charge was created by the adoption of ORD-14-00162 on October 30, 2014, and is codified at Madison General Ordinance Sec. 4.095. The Special Charge will be collected as part of the municipal services bill issued monthly by the Madison Water Utility.

The Urban Forestry Special Charge, a special charge on all real property in the City has been established to allow the City to recover its costs in performing the services associated with the City's Urban Forestry Program. The City services provided by the City's urban forestry program ensure a healthy, vibrant and sustainable urban forest, which benefits all residents and properties in the City, as discussed in the ordinance.

The Urban Forestry Special Charge Policy was originally approved by the Common Council on July 7, 2015 by RES-15-00597 and amended on May 17, 2016 by RES-16-00368 and May 15, 2018 by RES-18-00396.

The 2018 special charge policy update continues to address unintended impacts of the special charge in two areas. This update allows for the expansion of the Private Medians classification to include certain privately owned cul-de-sacs. These parcels are functionally the same as public right-of-way, which is not subject to the special charge, yet they are being charged, generally, under the residential special charge structure. Additionally, the 2018 update provides the option for developers to temporarily group together certain undeveloped parcels to be treated as stormwater only parcels until the parcels are developed or municipal services become available. This option allows for the City to better encourage full plat approval and corresponding development where practicable, and would treat undeveloped land similar to the manner it was treated before it was subdivided.

Apportionment Method

The Urban Forestry Special Charge is apportioned to all parcels in the City, including City-owned parcels, based upon parcel usage categories, aggregate street frontage of the usage categories, and parcel counts within each usage category, such that the net revenue received by the City from the special charges is consistent with the approved special charge amount.

Linear street frontage feet is a justifiable measure for allocating the urban forestry special charge since a majority of the urban forestry program is devoted to maintaining street trees and thus street frontage serves as a reasonable proximate measure of urban forestry services provided. Additionally, the benefits of the urban forestry program extend to all residents and all parcel types. The apportionment method will account for this by equally distributing the special charge between parcels used for the same purpose.

Determining the Charge

After the Common Council approved the annual urban forestry special charge under MGO Sec. 4.095(5) (the "Approved Charge"), staff estimated, based upon the criteria set forth in the policy and the data available to the City, how much special charge revenue, including from City-owned parcels, will need to be generated by the special charge in order to result in net revenue to the City equal to the Approved Charge (the "Special Charge Revenue Target"). For example, if it is expected that 10% of the special charge will be imposed against City-owned lands ("the City Share"), the Special Charge Revenue Target will be 11% more than the Approved Charge to allow the City to actually recover the approved amount of the special charge. The Special Charge Revenue Target will not be greater than the total urban forestry program costs. The formula to determine the Special Charge Revenue Target is as follows:

Special Charge Revenue Target = Approved Charge / (1-City Share)

Based upon existing databases maintained by the Madison Water Utility and the City Assessor’s Office, five categories of parcel uses will be used to apportion the special charge:

  • Commercial/Industrial
  • Multi-family (defined as three or more dwelling units on a parcel)
  • Residential (single and two-family parcels)
  • Stormwater Utility only (parcels whose municipal services bill is only for stormwater utility charges as well as undeveloped platted owned parcels)
  • Government (Federal, State, and Local government owned parcels)
  • Private Medians and Cul-de-Sacs

Each parcel is assigned to one of these categories and the total number of parcels in each category is determined along with the aggregate primary street frontage in each category. Each category's percentage of the primary street frontage in the City is determined as follows:

  • Sum the total amount of primary parcel street frontage in the City, excluding Private Medians and Cul-de-Sacs;
  • Separate this sum into each parcel category;
  • Divide each category's total primary street frontage by the City's total primary street frontage, thereby establishing each parcel category's percentage of primary street frontage in the City.

Each category's share of the Urban Forestry Special Charge is preliminarily calculated by multiplying each category's percentage of total primary street frontage by the Special Charge Revenue Target to establish each category's preliminary share.

Each category's preliminary share is divided equally by the count of parcels in each respective category to arrive at each parcel's total annual urban forestry special charge. This annual charge will then be divided based upon the number of collection periods remaining in the budget year.

Upon written request by a homeowners association to the Parks Division, parcels that are owned and maintained by a homeowners association and that are either an outlot within the public right-of-way or an outlot directly adjacent to the public right-of-way and that has the primary purpose of only providing access to and from adjoining lots shall be categorized as Private Medians and Cul-de-Sacs. Such a request must include the parcel identification numbers of all such privately owned medians and cul-de-sacs of the homeowners association. Once confirmed, Private Medians and Cul-de-Sacs will be excluded from the calculations set forth below and will not be apportioned any of the Urban Forestry Special Charge.

Upon written request by a developer to the Parks Division, undeveloped platted parcels may be administratively combined into an undeveloped platted parcel group for the purposes of administering the charge prior to the availability of municipal services to the parcel or development of the parcel. Undeveloped platted parcel groups are comprised of those parcels in subdivided land (either by plat or CSM) where municipal services (roadway, water, sewer, etc.) are not yet available and that cannot yet be developed. Parcels will be grouped based on the plat or CSM and upon the developer's expected phasing of public improvements in the subdivided land. A written request under this provision must include each parcel's parcel identification number, zoning designation, documentation that demonstrates the approved end usage of the parcel, the expected phasing of the development, and the desired parcel against which the charge should be imposed. Once approved by the Parks Division, these undeveloped parcels shall be administratively combined based upon the expected phasing of the public improvements in the subdivided land into a single Stormwater only parcel for billing purposes, which status is substantially similar to the categorization of vacant land prior to platting. The Urban Forestry Special Charge will then be imposed against a single developer-owned parcel in the parcel group, which parcel may be re-assigned upon sale or transfer, or by request. Upon the availability of municipal services to a parcel or the development of a parcel in the undeveloped platted parcel group, that parcel will be removed from the undeveloped platted parcel group and placed into the appropriate Customer group. For the purposes of determining the linear street frontage of an undeveloped platted parcel group, only those right-of-ways that existed prior to subdivision of the land will be included.

Annual Update

By December 1 of each year, the Parks Division will update the category parcel count and frontage apportionment ratios using the updated data maintained by the Madison Water Utility and the City Assessor's Office, and taking into account any approved requests made by homeowners associations or developers as set forth above.

2019 Urban Forestry Special Charge Rates

Based on the Special Charge Revenue Target, the Urban Forestry Special Charge is calculated and set for each individual parcel as identified below.

Customer Type
Number of Customers
% of Street Frontage
Category Total Revenue
Monthly Charge per Customer
Annual Charge per Customer
Commercial/Industrial
2,820
9.9%
$437,168
$12.92
$155.02
Government
393
3.7%
$163,386
$34.65
$415.74
Multi-Family
2,746
5.5%
$242,871
$7.37
$88.45
Residential
51,817
64.6%
$2,852,634
$4.59
$55.05
Stormwater
4,135
16.2%
$715,366
$14.42
$173.00
Grand Total
61,911
100.0%
$4,411,425

Frequently Asked Questions

Why does the Urban Forestry Special Charge exist?

The Urban Forestry Special Charge was created by the adoption of ORD-14-00162 on October 30, 2014, and is codified at Madison General Ordinances Sec. 4.095. Under the Urban Forestry Special Charge, a special charge on all real property in the City has been established to allow the City to recover all urban forestry costs to the City to maintain, protect and grow the City’s urban forest while maintaining existing levels of service associated with the City's urban forestry program. The City services provided by the City's urban forestry program ensure a healthy, vibrant and sustainable urban forest, which benefits all residents and properties in the City.

What will my bill be in 2019?

The Special Charge will be collected as part of the municipal services bill issued monthly by the Madison Water Utility. This bill also includes water utility, sewer utility, and stormwater utility charges. An individual parcel's special charge rate is set by its usage classification as determined by the Madison Water Utility. The 2019 schedule of monthly charges for each individual parcel usage classification is included in the table below.

Customer Type Monthly Charge per Customer
Commercial/Industrial $12.92
Government $34.65
Multi-Family $7.37
Residential $4.59
Stormwater $14.42

How is the rate for each individual parcel set?

A parcel's Urban Forestry Special Charge rate is set through a combination of primary linear street frontage, parcel use (residential, multi-family, commercial/industrial, stormwater utility only, or governmental), and the number of parcels being used for that same purpose. The special charge is apportioned using the following method.

  1. The Madison Water Utility assigns a usage category to each parcel in the City that receives a stormwater utility bill. See the 2019 Urban Forestry Special Charge Rates table above for the usage category count breakdown.

  2. Each category's portion of the urban forestry special charge is determined by that category's parcels' aggregate portion of the city's primary parcel street frontage.

  3. Each parcel's portion of its category's portion is determined by dividing the category's portion of street frontage by the number of parcels in the category.

  4. Each parcel's annual charge is determined by multiplying the parcel's portion of the charge (as determined in step 3) by the total annual revenue target*.

  5. Each parcel's monthly charge will then be determined by dividing the result of step 4 by the number of billing cycles in the year.

* The Special Charge Revenue Target is set above the Approved Charge, which are set by the Common Council, to allow City agencies to recover the approved amount of the special charge.

Why not directly link the rates to individual parcel's primary street frontage?

Directly tying individual parcels primary street frontage to the charge has several shortcomings:

  1. This method would place disproportionally high burden on a small number of select parcels while providing only minimal savings to a large number of parcels.

  2. Per Madison General Ordinances Sec. 4.095, no parcels are exempt from paying the Urban Forestry Special Charge. Apportioning the special charge by linear street frontage would lead to more than 900 parcels not paying the Urban Forestry Special Charge as they do not have positive primary street frontage. The Urban Forest provides benefits to all parcels in the City, and those parcels without positive primary street front cannot legally be exempt from paying the Urban Forestry Special Charge.

  3. Finally, apportioning the charge by individual linear street frontage would incur significantly more upfront and ongoing administrative costs. The selected policy can be administered efficiently and immediately for less than $10,000 in set up costs and minimal ongoing staff time. Implementing the charge by individual parcel linear street frontage, meanwhile, is estimated to cost at least three times the set up cost and would require near constant ongoing staff time throughout the year to ensure individual parcel Urban Forestry Special Charges are being administered accurately.

Why do parcels that have adjacent street trees pay the same amount as those that do not have adjacent street trees?

A healthy, vibrant, and sustainable urban forest provides benefits to all residents of Madison through a number of ways and not just to those who have parcels adjacent to City trees. Urban trees enhance the quality of oxygen, retain stormwater run-off, increase property values, and overall quality of life. Thus, residents of all parcel types shall help uphold the quality of the urban forest in the City of Madison.

Why are property taxes not enough to cover Urban Forestry costs?

Maintaining a healthy urban forest does not come without a cost and these costs are increasing as the City executes its Emerald Ash Borer Mitigation plan. The State of Wisconsin, however, limits the City of Madison in the amount of money it can raise through the property tax levy to pay for urban forestry maintenance costs. Thus, the City must seek alternative ways to raise revenues to help pay for urban forestry services it provides.

Where does the money that is collected go and what is it used for?

The Urban Forestry Special Charge revenues will be collected through Madison Municipal Services bill and be allocated into a designated fund. These funds will then be used specifically to pay for the costs already incurred by the City to support the services of the urban forestry program. These costs include mitigating Emerald Ash Borer, new trees, replacement trees, staff maintenance time, and forestry maintenance equipment.