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August 27, 2003

Why Not An 8% Increase In Property Taxes?

Alan Imhoff

Here we go again, the price of gasoline rises "to new highs" due to a pipeline break in Arizona, low inventories, and a one day power outage over 25% of the U. S. Sort of makes you wonder what we have gotten ourselves into.

The cost of gasoline keeps rising (till after Labor Day) because of "peak demand;" then later it will be because of the conversion of production capacity to home heating oil; then it is the conversion back to gasoline for the summer surge; then because of "peak demand" before Labor Day; then the conversion to home heating oil. Finally get the picture?

Yet no matter what reason is given we bear the 8%, 10%, 25% increase with no complaints. Well, maybe just a few. But we keep on driving back and forth to work, back and forth to the store, back and forth, back and forth.

For the average commuter, living in Frederick and "driving down the road" to work, this increase in a basic commodity is seen an unavoidable "cost of earning a decent wage." For many, this may means an extra $50 or so a month. If sustained, it can easily add up to an extra $600 or even $1,000 a year more just to go back and forth, back and forth.

But, if I were to suggest we charge an extra eight cents on our property tax rate, I will probably be shot full of holes by sunrise.

Eight cents on our current county property tax rate is the same percent increase (8%) we are now absorbing in the cost of gasoline.

The rise in the cost of gasoline gets you no added benefit to your lifestyle, except maybe when you try to ask for a raise. It is, for most people, not even income tax deductible. The rise of eight cents on an average $240,000 house means you pay out an additional $192 in property tax. Since this is tax deductible, depending on your bracket, you might get $10 or $12 back on your refund.

But the extra $192 paid in to the county could go for more books in the classrooms, an indirect benefit to your lifestyle with better-equipped workers in a few years. The extra $192 could be set aside to build some of those roads we cannot afford for least another 10 to 20 years. Or, if not roads, how about the bike path system we have been promised for decades.

Just think of all we could do if we wanted to. The question is will we complain about the "high property tax rate" and force our politicians to hold the line while so many basic things like roads, schools and water supplies fall further and further behind in the proverbial "catch up" wordsmithing of those seeking office, or will we bite the bullet?

Why is it on one hand we go like lemmings to the sea in accepting price creep in gasoline prices while we consistently fight any attempt to bring essential government services into line with current demand?

Yes there is always room for improvement in the "cost of delivery of services" from government, but to always play "catch up" to hold down the need for tax increases often seems self-defeating.

Name the last major road designed, constructed and paid for by county funds. Hint! It may take a while. Most roads we have been wringing our hands over the past decade (or two) are the wonderful I-70/I-270/Route 85 perpetual project, scheduled for completion in the next generation - maybe.

Why is it that after a decade of impact fees collected to "catch up" on school capacity we seem to be no further ahead than when we started? The portables - oops excuse me - learning cottages, keep getting rearranged every year, just like before.

Either we really want solutions to these problems, hint - increase in property tax rates, or we will continue to be placated with the status quo, just like buying gasoline and following the lemmings into the sea.

As an aside, according to some recently published numbers on housing permits in the county for Fiscal Year '03, which just ended in July, the county monthly average for permits is down over 34% from a 13 year monthly average of 185 units to the current 121. The first six months of this year are following the trend established from January to June of 1994 when the average was 117 units. Not exactly an exciting financial prospect.

Again, we must ask ourselves, did putting the burden on "new homeowners" to "catch up" our services really work?

With fewer homes being built, fewer impact fees are being collected and "catching up" is harder to do.



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