Thursday, July 27, 2006

Taxes and Town Meetings

It's all about accountability.

I hope you got your letter from Mayor Thompson reporting highlights of the City budget and inviting residents to one of three meetings to learn more.

We just finished up with the town meetings -- they were tonight and yesterday evening. I'm sorry I didn't see more of you there. Aside from the Council and City staff, I counted about ten residents in attendance each night.

This is a pity, because the evenings were hugely informative. Mayor Thompson gave a comprehensive overview of the City's mission statement and budgeting priorities. He provided exhaustive detail on the City's revenue sources and the allocation of precious budget dollars. Then -- the icing on the cake -- he sat down and took questions.

My favorite thing about Mayor Thompson is his courtesy as a listener. Residents were heard and treated with respect.

Their points were well taken. The three I have taken most to heart are these:

1. Has the City undertaken an actual, scientific marketing survey to determine the level of need for City programs? Should it not?

Answer: No, and Yes. (This question was aimed at the various recreation, arts, and other quality of life programs offered by the City, with special concern for the needs of seniors who need more and different programs.)

2. This property tax is all about homes. Families can't live without homes. Whether they pay rent or mortgage, the property tax is passed on to them, and they can't choose not to pay -- except by choosing not to live in a home. Increasing tax burdens are placing undue stress on families, forcing many to seek second incomes.

Thanks to Harold Smith for a stirring speech to this effect. He is right. But this is not a tax-and-spend Council. We are motivated entirely by the need to provide basic services -- services such as police, fire, ambulance, parks, safe routes to school -- services which are also basic to families. If we don't provide responsibly for these needs now, our City will continue to deteriorate and costs will continue to rise -- and that's not good for families, either.

3. Truth in Taxation, according to candidate Kenneth Sumsion, is less about revenue caps than about accountability. (Mr. Sumsion is the Republican nominee for the House in district 56.) The need to keep pace with inflation is there, he concedes. But by requiring local governments to jump through these hoops, the law guarantees that governments will be answerable to their constituencies for their actions.
While focusing on inflationary trends and the law's penalizing effect on well-meaning governments, I had missed this point. It can't hurt governments to develop a habit of communication with their constituents.

Under the provisions of Truth in Taxation, only the notices in the newspaper and the August 8 hearing are required. But we wanted to do more, so we sent out the letter and hosted the town meetings. I personally wanted to do more, because I need to be able to explain to my neighbors why the increase is necessary and how it will benefit their families. They don't make any more money than I do, after all.

If you weren't at one of the town meetings, I'm sorry you missed out. I hope you'll come to the hearing on August 8 -- at 6:00 in the Library.


Blogger David Rodeback said...

Excellent post. Keep up the good work. I quibble on one point, and it's Ken Sumsion's, not yours. I think it would make more sense for the legislature to use real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in their calculations of certified tax rates. It offends my linguistic sensibilities, among other things, that we force municipalities to ask for a tax increase in order to maintain the same level, which is not an increase in any important way. It's not quite Orwellian, in the sense of words that are used in politics to mean the opposite of what they actually mean, but it feeds cynicism and confusion. These things should be indexed to inflation -- the Consumer Price Index, to be specific, because nothing better seems to have come along yet.

1:16 PM  

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