Sunday, April 22, 2012

No Warm Fuzzies

Last week I attended another budget hearing on the local county budget. The county supervisors put forth a tax increase of 7 cents per $100 value on real estate and 8 cents on personal property. The administrators figure that will cost every household an average of an additional $200 annually.

At the first public input meeting on the budget, back in March, the supervisors were talking about cutting library hours, canceling sports programs in the schools, closing an elementary school, and other draconian cuts to services. They were $3.6 million short.

About 500 people turned out to tell the supervisors that they want those programs. Many said they supported a tax increase to pay for them.

During that first meeting, the vibe in the room was positive. It was full of hope. I had a warm fuzzy afterwards.

The most recent budget hearing was attended by less than 60 people, and since many of those were county employees and journalists, the number of citizens was probably around 30.

About half that number spoke.

There were no warm fuzzies. I was glad the auditorium was too large for this crowd as the space helped keep the negative vibes from becoming overpowering.

A couple of the speakers took the supervisors to task for mismanaging money. They were familiar faces who tend to say the same things every year.

I do not believe there has been mismanagement. The county has done a good job with what it has. It is only mismanagement if you don't think the county should be paying for certain things, like parks or libraries. If, like me, you think government's role is to provide services for the citizenry (because let's face it, in a capitalistic society, who is going to provide a park for free besides government?), then there is no mismanagement. Sometimes they do things I don't agree with, too, but that is not necessarily mismanagement.

Others said they could not afford the tax increase. I confess I didn't really believe them. It has been my experience at these types of meetings that the people who really can't afford to pay higher local taxes don't come. They are so busy trying to survive that they don't have the time or the will to show up.

I do believe there are people in the county who cannot afford a tax increase. I know there are folks who are barely getting by. According to the 2010 census, the county has a 5.6 percent poverty level; that is relatively low (it's 10.3 percent for the state). It works out to about 2,000 people in the county, given the 33,000 population. That is still too many, for sure. I do not believe that a country as rich as this one should have anyone living in poverty. But that's another rant.

I don't think the impoverished folks will have a $200 tax increase; if they are renters, they will have something like a $20 increase in the tax on a vehicle, depending on what they own. That is not a lot to pay and still have a deputy show up at your door if you are robbed or have your child attend school. I also know there are some homeowners who live in poverty but own their homes, especially older folks. They might have some problems.

However, the county already has a system in place to help those people. If you scroll down this page, you'll see that the county has relief in place for the elderly, disabled, and disabled veterans. Those folks can apply for, and receive, a break on the amounts they pay.

I was struck by the different feeling of these two meetings, one positive, the other negative. One supportive, and the other not.

One of the speakers at the most recent meeting said the schools should not be air conditioned. Let the kids sweat it out. Another said close the libraries. Or close a school. Put more people in jail! (So the county could collect the funds, I guess.) Or close the jail (that person was confused as to what they wanted, or perhaps I misheard). Sell the county's industrial park. Don't add more emergency service workers. Stop every initiative except for essential services (and even then I guess there would be arguments about what those should be).

At the first meeting, people wanted good schools (I would guess with air conditioning, though that didn't come up at the first meeting). They wanted the libraries open. They wanted security (but no one mentioned filling up the jail). They wanted emergency services. They wanted the things that a civilized society needs and utilizes.

There is a lot I can say about the difference at these two meetings, but I think I'll just end it here and let you, dear reader, think on it.

2 comments:

  1. Well, people always vote for the services. That was the first meeting--WE NEED THAT! But they never want to pay for the services. That was the second meeting. And I think you're right. The people who can't afford the tax increase can't afford the time or the energy to come to the meetings because they are busy suffering.

    I think our counties can find ways to cut back just like our households have had to. For one thing, I think our county workers should take a pay cut just like we have had to. I feel bad about that. But we're all making less. We have to install flooring for what we used to get paid back in the mid-nineties. We've taken a big pay cut. That's what we've had to do to get work. Why shouldn't government workers take a pay cut like us to keep their jobs?

    As far as air conditioning in schools, I can't afford air conditioning in my house. I don't think it's fair to make homeowners pay for things that are not really necessary. Yes, we'd like it. But we're not going to die without it. When I went to school there was no air conditioning. We were lucky if we had fans. When I heard Kelly's new school didn't have air conditioning, I was happy! Not that my child would be suffering. She'd suffer more if we lost our house because we couldn't pay the property taxes. And this teaches her that we can't have everything we want and we must be sensible and prioritize.

    Lastly, it will also affect the renters. It's not just the twenty dollars. Don't you think the landlords are going to raise their rents when their property taxes get raised? That'll be passed on. That's a landlord's business. No one is going to rent a property if he can't cover his costs. Tax increases hurt renters even more than homeowners in the long run because they pay a higher percentage of their incomes--assuming that most renters don't make as much money as most homeowners which I believe is the case.

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    1. So we are all to join in the chase to the bottom, with wages plunging and conditions becoming more and more inhumane? This debate can only take this line if we carefully leave out of the equation those people who *can* afford to pay more tax, and who *can* afford to pay more in wages, but who choose not to. Who not only choose not to but who choose to spend a lot of time and effort finding ways to dodge their taxes and who routinely find dodges to reduce not only the wages paid to their employees but also the number of their employees. All to boost their takings and the amount paid to shareholders. The USA is *still* the richest country in the world, yet it is choosing to let its children work in third world conditions and to pare back the wages of its workers to third world levels too. That isn't good enough, and it shouldn't be accepted as good enough. Ordinary people, and their children, are worth more. Public services set a sort of benchmark. They should pay fair wages, insist on fair conditions, provide fair benefits. They should represent the best of good practice, not the worst. Allowing the public services to be dragged down to private employer standards damages the hopes of private employees for an improvement: for decent pay, decent healthcare, decent pensons. It sets a low ceiling on the hopes of ordinary working people, while leaving the rich without responsibilities to society and its improvement. But in any half way decent society, especially one calling itself a democracy, everyone has obligations to the good, fair working of society, and the improvement, not the degradation of living and working standards.

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