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Feb 20, 2003 to Feb 6, 2013

The Coming Storm.. Brattleboro Taxes


I am watching the discussions about the budget, growing obligations, new expenses and concomitant higher taxes, with concern. The lack of public input over the continued escalation of property taxes is confounding. The fact that Brattleboro continues to pursue this path, given the current economic situation and future portended, seems like trying to deny the coming tsunami. While income sensitivity is a panacea for some, the property tax bite has moved beyond unreasonable into unsustainable. The fact is, Vermont has the third highest tax burden in the nation and Brattleboro has one of the highest tax burdens in the State.

A strong relationship/correlation exists between taxes and home values, and the nexus of rising taxes and diminishing home values is now quantifiably evident in the Brattleboro market. The combined cost of financing and tax burdens makes qualifying for a mortgage under the new federal guidelines challenging. Only those who are able to make large down payments and who can meet tighter income to debt ratios can qualify. Home values, as a result, at the upper end of the market, particularly those above $350,000, are falling 10, 15, 20% or more. Prices are now below the cost of construction. These homes, as a result, mine included, now list for prices significantly lower than their assessed value – as sellers chase the affordability equation. Upper end homeowners who have taken their homes off the market sit in ‘maintenance mode’, not making improvements or contributing to community development while attempting to wait out a market that is sure to even decline further when VY closes. Interestingly, middle market homes seem to be unaffected by the market based on sales figures obtainable from realtors and on-line resources. And therein lies the problem….

While some may say, ‘so what’, the reality is that the drop at the upper end will have a significant tax impact on middle/lower value properties come the next town appraisal – or even earlier if everyone rushes the reassessment window early. How? Simple math. As upper end appraisals drop and withou significant new construction (it is cheaper to buy than build), the grand list will shrink. This makes middle market homes, which are holding their value, a larger piece of the Town’s fixed property tax burden. The result; mid-market homeowners will see sharply higher taxes. This impact will also affect the rental market as owners pass on rising costs to renters.

Years ago, when the property tax burden shifted from business to residential owners, we saw this same impact. Now, I believe, property owners face the same consequences from within the residential market. Even those families eligible for income sensitivity will not be immune.

I do not have a solution, I only point out that if taxpayers do not engage in a dialogue to change course now, Brattleboro will have a massive ‘for sale’ sign on it – because home ownership will be unaffordable for everyone.

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 #

Is anyone concerned?

I've been trying to ring that alarm with Selectboard coverage and recent polls. I agree that the lack of discussion is somewhat odd, though perhaps people are in shock, waiting and hoping to see if it might not be as bad as first imagined.

I do commend the Selectboard for bringing some of their budget discussion to their regular televised meetings this year, but still think they should do nothing but budgets at the Tuesday meetings and move all the rest of business to off days. The budget is THE most important thing they do, and is the most opaque process to the public.

At their most recent meeting, two interesting things were said.

First, David Gartenstein said that taxes would be going up substantially despite their best efforts. He seemed to indicate they cut all the fat they could, but he didn't say anything about hard choices and cutting services. This could mean they decided to keep all current services and simply raise taxes to meet the expense. If so, this may set up quite a discussion at Representative Town Meeting, and a possible rejection of the budget.

On the other hand, Kate O'Connor said they had discussed reducing staff to 32 hour work weeks. That would be a cut in the time spent on services, but not the services. If so, this would be a rather dramatic change for town employees, pushing them more into the corporate world of no full-time jobs and little or no benefits. It would cut town expenses for salaries and benefits.

In addition to property taxes going up (and I'd assume education might rise, too) the fees for water and sewer will continue to go up to pay off the new waste water treatment plant. And there are bond payments for a new Police and Fire Station on the horizon. Plus, life in general keeps getting more costly.

Perhaps Brattleboro taxpayers don't mind. It could be that people like it this way and want it to remain. Perhaps no one has any good ideas, or is afraid to say they'd like to do without plowing, paving, parks, libraries, etc.

 
 #

I can't imagine that

I can't imagine that townspeople don't mind. Housing prices and sales are definitely going to be affected, actually have been already and that will have a spiral effect on overall town fiscal health. I can't believe cutting town staff down to 32 hours is considered a logical solution, it's punitive and a bandaid placed on a bleeding artery.

In fact what should happen immediately is the tabling of any move forward on the police/fire building any other new projects that aren't absolutely necessary. To move forward on that project at this point in time is simply not logical.

Kudos to David Dunn for bringing this up and writing such a rational well thought out comment. Personally if their best effort is to cut staff hours for what would be a pretty small savings and then move ahead on these huge projects that aren't required at this time I don't hold high hopes for the future.

The Selectboard and the School Board both need to really get serious about belt tightening. No new projects, no replacement of staff when someone leaves for now. I would think that employees would rather pick up that slack than get their hours cut. Mr. Dunn is correct, this is not sustainable.

 
 #

Furloughs

Furloughs are typically what I have seen both in private businesses and the public sector to reduce costs.
Rather than a 32 hour work week, employee are required to take a one or two weeks off with no pay. These furloughs are staggered so there is coverage for those that are no present. You can call that punitive but it is a logical solution to the problem.

It is not enough to keep cutting costs.
Brattleboro needs to start to figure ways of not only reducing costs but raising revenues.

 
 #

While I agree that raising

While I agree that raising revenues seems necessary but cutting costs will be the only way out of this mess. It's obvious that part of the problem has been a constant raising revenues approach without any serious looks into cutting costs.

As Mr. Dunn points out, raising taxes is certainly not going to be the correct long term answer. Once property taxes are so high, which is exactly where we are right now, then real estate sales are affected, you will no longer have a grand list to turn to. In fact I remember recently a selectboard member commenting on the cost to property owners regarding the police station project that those who receive rebates won't have to worry about the cost. The fact is the town and school budgets should reflect what property owners can afford without rebates. This town should not be relying on rebates to take the sting away for some tax payers, letting the expenses fall even more heavily on those that don't qualify.

Unless you are privy to some figures I'm not aware of, there is absolutely no way that furloughs or reduced hours is a logical solution to the problem. It won't even put a teeny tiny dent in the problem. You're talking pennies thrown at what appears to me to be some upcoming millions of dollars needed if the police station project is continued. If it's cancelled, then it's pennies thrown at hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Do you have any figures to back up your claims that furloughs would be a logical solution to the problem? I sure don't see it as a way out, not even close. Therefore it's going to financially punish a few to give the impression that something is being done when in fact it's just window dressing. And remember that the less those folks make the less they spend and the less income for local businesses. It's a big downward spiral and needs some more thoughtful solutions and some immediate table-ing of expensive projects that aren't absolute necessary
\

 
 #

Quite a puzzle

Be careful. They didn't say they were cutting hours, Kate just mentioned it in passing as a suggestion that had come up. We don't know if this is their plan.

If no one is full-time, there would be no benefits to pay. Benefits are the primary cost that is rising out of control, with perhaps fuel being the other big one.

I can see one argument for continuing with the Police Fire Project - new stations might be attractive to those planning to move their homes or businesses here. It's not a great argument, of course...

There are lots of possibilities, but no good answers:

- no big new Town projects until Grand List goes up
- sell the Parking Garage
- get rid of metered parking to encourage people to come and visit
- start a department of volunteers
- encourage donations and estate gifts
- increase portfolio of renewable energy powering the town
- cut street lights
- stop plowing most neighborhoods
- wishing well in Pliny Park to collect coins
- increase fees for non-resident marriage licenses
- eliminate or reduce the business tax (license) to encourage business in town
- work to provide serious incentives for business to relocate to town
- charge BMAC rent

In truth, the answer may be the opposite of what we might expect. Working to make Brattleboro more friendly for visitors and business, which might increase economic activity and the Grand List, would require cutting sources of income. In other words, have what a store would call a sale. Draw people in rather than give them reasons to go elsewhere.

I fear the plan is to increase fees and such which will give more reason to avoid the town. There are price points where people decide to change their behavior.

If a widget maker wants to make more money, prices can be raised. Fewer items might be sold, but it might increase the widget maker's income. Prices could also be reduced, allowing more people to buy widgets.

If we go back to early town budgets, there was very little there. Some police, some fire, and some public works… and that was all. Everything else was on the citizens, businesses, churches, and so on to take care of. And they did.

 
 #

Talk to the Chiefs

Another argument, Chris, is well-voiced by the Chiefs of the two Departments -- that the changes and improvements are badly needed.

Yet another is that public-sector spending in times of recession is good for everyone in the longer term because it stimulates the economy.

Larger-scale borrowing (such as bonding) is how new money is created and moves into the money supply. If no one borrowed, the economy would lose its life-blood. Responsible borrowing gives people confidence to spend in their daily lives. This allows the larger economy to improve because of the vast number of smaller spending decisions that ordinary people are making (or not making) every day.

The US economy improved by 4% in the third quarter (July-September). If it continues to improve, you and everyone else will shortly realize the days of the 'great recession' are past.

And I personally favor economic stability over growth. I observe that we are still one of the most affluent countries in the world. And I watch as scores of volunteers stoop and bend and labor to help those of us who are less fortunate. And as We, the People continue paying the taxes necessary to maintain and even improve the 'safety net' that keeps others from starving to death, freezing in the winter, or doing without necessary health care.

Think of paying taxes as a civil and human right that supports everyone else's basic human rights.

 
 #

Public Sector Spending

I think the idea of spending your way out of a recession is easier to do when you're the federal gov't and can just print money essentially, then when you're a town where most of the budget comes out of taxpayers. If you can readily afford higher taxes, good for you. Not everyone can.

 
 #

'Table It'? Bad idea.

The time for 'tabling' the Police/Fire project was before the special Representative Town Meeting in November of last year. That was the time for last-ditch opposition, too.

Since that time, the Selectboard approved bonding more than one-third of the cost of the project; $5 million. That is money now already borrowed and shortly to go into the property tax rate. You are not going to get around that by 'tabling' the project.

Rosa Bonheur, instead of calling for 'tabling' it, try going to the meetings of the Police/Fire Project Oversight Committee and influencing those good folks toward economies. But I daresay that if you go to their meeting and ask that the project be 'tabled', people will nod politely and go about their appointed (literally) business of making the project happen as planned.

This means that your protestations that the project should be 'tabled' and others' concerns in similar veins will not bring about the action you say you desire. If all goes according to plan (and the current momentum), the Selectboard will authorize the bonding of well over $5,000,000 in addition, by roughly this coming June.

Considering the margin of passage of the initiative by Representative Town Meeting (3-1), personally I regard it as unlikely that the momentum toward continuing and completing the project would be reversed. People realize (some only after thinking about it) that the Town has already sunk very substantial costs into this project. 'Tabling' it would write off those costs, which not only include the $5,000,000 already borrowed through bonding, but the very considerable time and effort the Town administration (and consultants) spent over the past 3-4 years coming up with the project proposal that Representative Town Meeting wound up approving.

 
 #

John, If you stop a project

John,
If you stop a project you don't loose $5,000,000 because you borrowed it. You return it or invest it and pay it back as payments if the penalty for early payback is too great.

How on earth could you state that you have to write off $5 million dollars that you borrowed? You either pay it back or return it in bulk. The only cost would be any fines for early re-payment. Your statement really puzzles me.

As for the 4% economic rise, perhaps you should look further into those numbers before you get too positive about some sort of uptick.

Asking for prudent spending isn't a sign of a negative attitude towards taxes, it's a sign of a negative attitude towards the squandering and misuse of tax money.

 
 #

It's Money Being Spent As We Speak ...

... on the services of architects, etc. To get a run-down on how it's being spent, visit the Police-Fire Project Oversight Committee and ask for a current report on spending on the project.

I notice you are very selective in which of my statements you respond to. What else are you doing to take action? You really should take your concerns out of this discussion and into other forums, such as Selectboard meetings, committee meetings, etc., if you want to make a difference.

Usually the time for 'tabling' a project is before the decision is made to proceed with it. It would be truly extraordinary to stop this project midway through its execution phase.

 
 #

Would you rather I respond to

Would you rather I respond to EVERY statement you make? Might get a bit lengthy. As for other forums I did that initially when I first got here and realized that it wasn't going to make a heap of difference for a variety of reasons.

Besides I'm a bit busy right now working so I can afford to continue to live here. Becomes a more herculean task every year.

Why don't you send me a list of the statements you think I should respond to and we'll proceed in that manner in the future. Allow me to point out though that the project will be $15 million dollars, so you've spent what, like $20,000 or so on architects etc. to this point. So why can't those architectural drawings be rolled up and tucked in a drawer and pulled out in a few years when the economy is better. You haven't squandered the money, just paid for a service you would have had done eventually. I mean, really, if the plans are good now won't they still be as good a few years down the road?

So what's wasted? Anything that's been done upfront is preparatory work which should, if it's any good at all, be just as useful once the town's ecnoomy has improved. Or is the theory that we have to spend $15 million because we've already spent $20,000?

If it is then that explains to me partly why this town's in such a financial mess in the first place.

 
 #

John Didn't mean to sound

John
Didn't mean to sound quite so irritated with that comment. But I do find it frustrating. Seriously I doubt that this project is "midway". So I'm standing by the argument that you don't need to spend $15 million because you spent say even $100,000. It's all prepaatory, table it for now and pick it up when it's more affordable. At least that's my theory. Now I'm going to table my involvement with this discussion because it's becoming as frustrating as attending meetings proved to be. A nod to you for your contributions to the committee but I stand by my statements.

 
 #

Momentum

Quote: "personally I regard it as unlikely that the momentum toward continuing and completing the project would be reversed"

If the Town Meeting Reps and/or the citizens conclude that this obligation will be too big a burden on the town and its taxpayers, just watch how fast they reverse it.

 
 #

Yup!

I've heard your alarm, Chris. I am definitely concerned. My partner and I are building in Brattleboro as we speak and I have serious concerns over taxes rising. It is in fact very expensive to build right now, and the thought of the house losing value before we even finish building it is not one I relish. Adding more taxes may bury us! Building right now was a calculated risk we took, we didn't go into this blindly and in the end it works out for us because it's helping us sell jobs (we're builders,) but it's pretty ridiculous that we pay the highest taxes in the state (if what I'm hearing is correct) and now they are about to get higher. Something is very wrong. Bratt's a cool place to live, but come on.

(We may have an added expense that I am not very happy about right now as well - somehow despite the fact that we are building within city limits, we don't' have access to affordable high-speed internet. I work from home and a large part of what I do is design websites, gonna be kind of hard to do with no internet. I've lived all over the US and have been able to get affordable internet in some pretty far-out places for many many years, the idea that I can't get it inside a small city is mind-boggling.)

Why am I personally not doing anything despite being alarmed? There are a multitude of reasons. I'll make myself vulnerable here - I hesitate to do this because I've seen how nasty people can get on iBratt, but I'm sure there are others out there who can relate to at least part of my situation and maybe talking about why some of us don't engage in town politics will help increase participation.

First is a lack of time. We are building a house and launching a new business at the same time. I don't have time to keep up with everything going on in Brattleboro politics, so I feel too uneducated on the issues to take a stand.

Second is my own ignorance about how town politics work in general. I've been a nomad since I was a teenager, never staying in a place for more than 12 months and often living in places for 3 months or less at a time. I've never been invested in an area. Now that I am settling down I am invested, but this is all new to me.

Third is my ignorance specifically about Brattleboro politics. I don't live there yet - I've been in the area for about 18 months and have tried to stay on top of what's going on in Bratt, but I still don't feel like I really have a grasp on what I can personally do to influence the budget.

Fourth is Narcolepsy. I've got it, and I usually can't attend meetings without falling asleep - I have to talk a lot and stay active and completely engaged to remain conscious, and even then sometimes I can't. This is one of the reasons I so greatly value Chris's write-ups - at least I can read about what goes on, but I can't express my opinion in person.

If anyone were to ask my opinion, it sure does seem like scrapping that huge station project would save a lot of money, but I don't know enough to know whether it is truly needed and I don't want to take a stand without understanding both sides. I would hate to see staff hours reduced. I'm sure those employees need those 8 hours and I value the old-fashioned and nearly obsolete notion of employees being satisfied. When they are unhappy, job performance goes down, and I know I'd be unhappy if someone put a dent in my income. If we reduced our employee's hours, he'd quit. Turnover is costly. Plus, what kind of savings are we talking about even if we did do that? Cutting education is not an option in my mind. Again, I don't know what they are doing with the money, perhaps the way money is used in the schools could be improved, but taking money from the schools is a bad idea. I used to teach high school in Florida and when crotchety retirees would complain about "paying to educate other people's children" I simply reminded them that if the children in their area aren't getting good educations including extracurricular activities, they have too much time on their hands and can't get good jobs. They are going to find other ways to make a living/entertain themselves and that often means drugs and crime, which means they might rob YOU. I'm blown away by the crime in Bratt as it is - I've lived in much "harder," even "lawless" areas so I'm not shocked by crime in general, I'm just disappointed to return to this region after almost 20 years and find things a little out of control. We don't need to add to that.

So anyway, yeah Chris I'm concerned. Any suggestions, after hearing my situation, on what I should do about it?

 
 #

"I can see one argument for

"I can see one argument for continuing with the Police Fire Project - new stations might be attractive to those planning to move their homes or businesses here. It's not a great argument, of course..."

You're right, it's a lousy argument. The fact is that the tax rates here are so out of proportion that it's more likely a negative when people look at moving here to live or run a business. No one is going to move here because there's a nice new shiny police/fire station.

Carly, the education budget here is so high per capita that it could easily take some trimming without affecting educational quality, in my opinion. It's a very very different situation than Florida, where the schools are begging for money. I've had some experience in these areas and some trimming could easily be done without doing any great harm.

In 2011 Florida spent $8,887 per student making it one of the stingiest states. Brattleboro fell in the $13-15,000 per student category. This makes Brattleboro as a town and Vermont as a state fall into 5th place for spending behind the states of New Jersey, District of Columbia, Alaska, and New York for 2011. Some trimming could be done without grave consequences. And I have enough faith in the youth here to believe that cutting that budget a bit wouldn't result in huge increases in robberies armed or otherwise.

 
 #

Carly That was a joke, should

Carly
That was a joke, should have added an LOL after the robbery comment. At any rate as you can see from our education expenditures cutting the budget a bit wouldn't possibly leave you without afterschool programs or any where near the deficits in the Florida schools that lead to bored students. Cutting spending per student by even $2,000 would still put us in the top 13 in expenditures.

 
 #

Thanks!

I think you did an excellent job explaining yourself here, and I think your reasons are very similar to others - limited time, limited resources, confusion about how things work.

I run into long-time residents serving on important boards and committees who don't know how things work and don't really seem to follow the news. You are probably a step up from many of them by paying attention, even if it is hard to follow sometimes.

A bit on how this all works:

- we elect Selectboard members
- Selectboard members work with Town staff to come up with a Town budget each fall for the following fiscal year (starts in June).
- the Selectboard sends the budget to the Representative Town Meeting in March
- Town Meeting Representatives can either approve it, or vote it down. They aren't allowed to do line item changes, though sometimes people try. : )
- special projects, like the Police Fire station, often require a bond. Town Meeting Reps vote for or against bonds.

The town splits finances into three major categories. The General Fund covers most of the day to day work of the town. The Utility Fund is distinct and covers water and sewer costs. The Capital Fund is money for big but generally expected purchases, like dump trucks and planned improvements. We also have some money to loan out, and income from grants to cover some projects.

The schools are an entirely different beast, but follow a similar path. The school boards prepare their budget and present it at Representative Town Meeting for reps to accept or decline.

Citizens have a few avenues for challenging decisions, and some decisions have been reversed.

It's a bit dry, but the Brattleboro Town Charter has all the rules for how the town works. It isn't too long, and is worth a read to see how things interact.

So, anyone interested in "participating" has a few options, as I see it:

- write letters to the editor here and to the papers, and rally your neighbors to do the same.
- talk it up, make sure others know what you know
- ask questions about things that don't make sense
- write or call Selectboard, School Board, and Town Meeting Representatives and express your views/ask questions
- run for office - either at the Board or Rep level
- follow the Charter's rules...

An aside: our Representative Town Meeting, to me, seems archaic and odd. No one else does it this way. It doesn't seem representative to me at all. We could have something that allows anyone and everyone to participate, and we might then get different results.

 
 #

BUHS budget is a different process

We spend a lot of our time talking and thinking about our municipal budget but that is only 30% of our total property tax bill. Another 31% goes to our town schools and both of those budgets are voted on by the Town Reps.

The BUHS budget goes through a completely separate process. The Brattleboro portion of the BUHS budget is a huge 38% of our total property tax bill but it is voted on by whatever tiny fraction of townspeople from Brattleboro (and the other towns that are part of the Union) who attend their completely separate meeting in February. This is open to all voters, not just Town Reps but not a lot of people go to it... despite how much of a percentage it is of our property tax payments to the town every quarter.

 
 #

Very true

And Joerg Mayer always encouraged people concerned about taxes to go attend their meeting.

The school budget was almost rejected last year. The people do have some say in what they pay, and for what.

 
 #

Another Option

Anyone interested in participating in the nuts and bolts decisions of how the Town decides to spend money also has the opportunity of attending and participating in meetings of the Town Finance Committee.

One EXTREMELY important distinction must be drawn here ... unlike almost all of the other committees in the Town, the Finance Committee is not appointed by the Selectboard, but rather by Representative Town Meeting (usually through the actions of the Town Moderator shortly after each year's regular meeting in March). This means that creating and appointing the Finance Committee is how your elected representatives have decided to create a key 'check and balance' -- a more objective 'third party' voice -- to evaluate the policies and practices of the Executive branch of the Town Government (read: Selectboard, Town Manager, and Department heads).

We do not serve limited terms but are appointed year-to-year 'at the pleasure of Representative Town Meeting'. Our meetings are always warned, and are always open to the public. Only on the rarest of occasions have I seen persons from the general public at our meetings, and that only when they were already considering becoming members of the Committee.

People *are* appointed by the Town Moderator at other times during the year, however ... he, and we, are usually quite glad when there is new interest.

We do not limit our discussions to poring over financial statements, etc., but also spend quite a bit of time talking about documented issues and trends. We are generally receptive to public appeals to limit spending; we're almost always trying to respond to those sorts of concerns ourselves as individual members.

 
 #

Brattleboro Charter?

***Town Meeting Representatives can either approve it, or vote it down. They aren't allowed to do line item changes, though sometimes people try.***

Izzatso? In the free Vermont towns, Town Meeting voters can make cuts and amend line items in the municipal budget. And they do.
School budgets can be cut, but you can't specify a line item from which to make the cut.

If the the budget can't be cut at Town Meeting in Brattleboro, your surrogate voters are left with a choice of budget or no budget and having a special town meeting to (hopefully) approve a new budget.

 
 #

logical?

What is the logic behind furloughing workers with lower middle class incomes? Of all the places that wealth can be found why do you choose to take it from this group?

 
 #

I think this one can be filed

I think this one can be filed under grasping at straws.
But as Chris said it was just a thought thrown out there.

Great editorial in the Reformer today Spoon.

 
 #

reducing costs

I understand completely who occupies those jobs. My comments regard one way of reducing expense. Its not perfect, it might not be used in the end, but its a possible solution. Costs need to be reduced.

As chair of the finance comm, do you have any concrete solutions to reduce the budget woes?

 
 #

brattleboro commons editoral

I recently read your (Spoon Agave) editorial in the BC and found it compelling. I understand your logic regarding the Police/FD renovations and it is a suggestion worthy of review. As for creating a Dept of Economic Development, it seems there are already entities in place on a local, regional and state level that are involved with that already and I am afraid there would be a lot of duplication of effort. Monitoring a group like you propose necessitates a direct report, and they are most effective when they work under the direction of a full time employee like a Town Manager or Mayor.

 
 #

Kate says...

Just spoke with Kate O'Connor at the Post Office. She said these are definitely things for discussion, but things have not been settled yet. She encourages people with ideas to share them.

As it stands, they've gotten it down from 15 or 16 cents to about 9 cents, but it is a temporary illusion caused by skating rink repairs coming in way under budget.

 
 #

Regional Problem, Regional Solution?

We keep hearing about how the costs are so high for Brattleboro because we are the regional hub. Since that is so, what kind of regional solutions can we come up with? Let's just think about what that could be, put anything on the table, and think about things differently.

My first idea is to outsource our entire Police Department to the Windham County Sheriff's Department. We could save a little money early on because we wouldn't need to chiefs (for example). If we did this, they could bulk up and provide service to, say, Vernon who is in a similar search for cost cutting. Our entire county is smaller than most mid-sized cities, so why not have just one regional police department? We would only need one HR dept, scheduler, one chief, one accountant, etc.

Don't know if this is possible, but it is interesting...

 
 #

Makes sense to me

Makes sense to me

 
 #

Always the case

I think that the offhand comments about how high taxes are should be verified. The statement, "You are now paying the lowest taxes since Truman" is bandied about. My understanding is that this includes state and local taxes. In every society there are those that claim that taxes are too high (The rent is too damn high - party and the usual megarich). But are taxes very high in fact or is this just a common complaint in an era where pay has stagnated for about 30 years?
It seems to me in New Hampshire that a discussion, such as this one, is immediately followed by a reduction in the pay of government workers and discontinuance of paying for maintenance and upkeep of the "public weal" namely roads, bridges, schools etc. These things turn out to cost much more when they aren't maintained on a regular basis. Now in certain areas has been added the dishonorable reneging on pensions. I think that this is a way that the very wealthy try to reduce the amount that they contribute in recompense for the immense amount they have sucked out of the economy. I don't blame them particularly, that is the way that the system is set up. We are now (in my opinion as well as others) to the place where there is so much money squirreled away by the wealthy that it is impinging upon the amount available for the rest of us to keep the economy going.
Nevertheless, the results always seem to be to take more from public employees and those promised things like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
There are three ways to fix the National Debt and thus the deficit we face. Any one of them is sufficient, all three would result in the biggest tax windfall for citizens ever recorded: 1) Remove the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, 2) Single payer health insurance not just in Vermont but nation wide. 3) Stop the military overabundance and all the wars. We are only over there doing that in order to get cheap raw materials for Halliburton et. al. And it doesn't work any more than do all the military adventures that fund our huge military industrial complex.
Fixing any one of these problems gets rid of the deficit. All three would signal a rebound for our economy to set the stage for full employment and growth again. Putting the money in the pockets of those that work for a living not those rentiers that are sucking us dry.

 
 #

You are confusing a

You are confusing a discussion of town property taxes with taxes on a national level. Different animals altogether.

Since moving here my property taxes have pretty much doubled and as Elkins pointed out in his post, there's a record in recent years of doubling every 5 or 6 years. I am not young, I am not wealthy, I have owned property in other areas including some major cities and have never ever seen such a rise in such a short time. Case in point, in the last city I lived in taxes went up 20% over 20 years. Apparently this doubling every 6 or so years has been the norm for awhile here.

Based on past experience, this was totally unpredictable and unexpected. Property taxes are not affected by federal government actions in general, they are affected by decisions made at the local level and projects that are taken on at the local level. Talk to any homeowner and you'll get your verification as far as how high local taxes have become and trust me, it's not common to see this doubling every few years. To me it's really unprecedented.

It's not just a common complaint because pay & wages are stagnant. Property taxes are determined by the expenditures at a local level for items and can be out of whack if expenditures are not kept under control. Currently property taxes look to go up substantially over the next 2 years, again, because of the proposed fire/police station building. My prediction is that the moving forward with this project is going to cause great harm to the current real estate market which is in the doldrums anyway. No one is going to buy here with such unsustainable property taxes on real estate. Rents also will undoubtedly rise as landlords try to shoulder the burdens of the cost of this proposed project. But do not confuse property taxes which are really determined on a local level with federal taxes which include income taxes.

 
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Not my confusion

First off there has been an enormous amount of what is called downshifting - tax money that used to be paid to the federal government or which was required by states to adopt programs made into laws at the federal level. Probably the worst case is the no child left behind stuff.
Second, it is a common complaint that local taxes are higher but what if those are offset by reduction at the state and federal level? All politicians want to take credit for reducing taxes. It doesn't seem to matter if they are just paid at some other level or changed to fees which only rarely affect only those using the services.
So no, I don't see these as different questions. A person makes so much money, the expenses are taken out of that and it doesn't matter if they are from one group or another the result is the same.
So again I ask, do you know if your tax burden has increased or decreased. For corporations it clearly has decreased. The largest corporations which at another time were contributing to the general tax fund now have those taxes down to I think an average for them of about 12%. They used to be 33% or more. That money is made up other ways. Roads need to be repaired, schools have to be built, what difference does it make if the money comes from local or federal taxes?
It is not too hard to see the current group of rate payers as ingrates. We were presented a world in pretty good shape. Now it is threatened by global warming, terrorism, crumbling roads and bridges and on and on. We owe it to the next generation to give them a sustainable world and the way that we do this is with taxes. Corporations are using the air, water, land as a dumping ground for the left overs from their profits. This stuff has to be paid for or else we are indebting subsequent generations and that isn't fair.

 
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Really ingrates, really? Well

Really ingrates, really? Well as someone who has paid more than my fair share of taxes over the years, I find that statement rather annoying. As I said, we are discussing the topic of town taxes which is particular to each individual town and city in the country. If the town is run poorly or makes bad investments than the property holders bear the brunt. This has very little to do with federal dollars coming in. The town should be run in a manner that anyone who qualifies for a middle income home knows that the tax burden in 5-6 years will not have doubled and hence caused a burden on that purchaser. It appears from your posts that you don't understand the difference between federal taxes and local property taxes and why they are different. It also appears that you don't want to investigate and understand the difference or you wouldn't have resorted to calling those in Brat who are being squeezed financially by the constant tax increases locally "ingrates." Really, well try getting an affordable apartment in town in a few years if this trend keeps up.

And I answer you again, my property taxes have doubled in about 6 short years. And FYI, it makes a huge difference to the town's economy whether money for roads, schools, et al comes from the federal or local budget. Want a job in a couple of years around here. Think it's hard now. Good luck if the tax rates keep up at the rate they have been. You are not going to see new investors coming in except for the innocent who open cottage shops that are guaranteed to go under in about 6 months.

 
 #

"We owe it to the next

"We owe it to the next generation to give them a sustainable world and the way that we do this is with taxes. Corporations are using the air, water, land as a dumping ground for the left overs from their profits. This stuff has to be paid for or else we are indebting subsequent generations and that isn't fair."

You know actually I agree with this comment as far as owing the next generation a sustainable world. However in order to do that we also need to be prudent and sensible regarding expenditures. It will do the future generation of Brattleboro-ites no good at all if they inherit a bankrupt town. It is not sustainable if the tax rates in town are so out of control that no one can afford a place to live, whether you are renting or trying to purchase a home. And it certainly will do them no good if they inherit a town that can't sustain small local businesses because the populace has no discretionary income to spend downtown.

You don't guarantee the next generation a sustainable world through taxation.You guarantee the next generation a sustainable world through judicious use of tax monies so that the town's economy is healthy, there are jobs to be had and affordable housing.

 
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Platitudes

"You don't guarantee the next generation a sustainable world through taxation.You guarantee the next generation a sustainable world through judicious use of tax monies so that the town's economy is healthy, there are jobs to be had and affordable housing."

How do you know this? This kind of prognostication doesn't sit well with me since so many of the like predictions of doom and gloom go so far awry. So back to my "ingrates" comment. Having now looked up the word again, I fear that I put more ugliness into it than I see Dictionary.com would support. In my usage, and ingrate is not only ungrateful for what that person received but makes an insufficient effort at paying forward those things that that person has received through the efforts of others - in this case progenitors. Perhaps there will be some magic occur to repay these debts but I can't think of how that would work having never seen it in my life.

I am sorry if you don't make enough to pay what your town assesses in taxes. In my experience, local officials do not and can not allow waste. Above that level, anything goes right up to the federal government which has been spending mega money on stuff that even those that get the results don't want (think military). What you (I) get when you cut local taxes is degradation of those things that are actually important as opposed to say the invasion of Iraq, the Keystone pipeline, bridges to nowhere and investigations of nonevents like Benghazi.

In New Hampshire, I think we have the record for basing the support of government on property taxes as we have no income tax. The last time I looked, it was about 62% of government funding. This is a horror, of course, for all the reasons you are experiencing and a bunch of others. My theory is that this is not a mistake but part of a plan to make sure that older people, veterans, etc. scream loudly as they have (we have) fixed incomes as do you, evidently. Cantservatives play this up of course as they believe in some sort of magic that will occur if they don't pay progressive amounts and the roads and bridges and education system that they use relatively little will be sucked out of those that don't vote, namely the poor, young, old, disadvantaged etc.

The result of the usual complaining,of which this is a typical instance, it that payroll costs are cut, always. It is never the buildings, roads, etc. it is always the police, fire, teachers, administrators et. al. who do your "public work." That's not fair. I think we have about run out of my generation and those who always thought that public service was good for society and therefore the loss of pay and respect was valuable in some other way. God help us when we only have economically motivated teachers. You have seen what private education does when left to itself. Another corporate monster is created - striving for its own benefit only.

 
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First of all I did not make

First of all I did not make any statements about what my income was or whether it was fixed or not, that is pure conjecture on your part. Secondly I never said in any of my statements that I do not support taxes being used to pay for teachers, firemen, etc. In fact, I said here that the idea of cutting town employees hours as a cost saving measure was punitive and not a true attempt at cost cutting.

It think before you make assumptions about me you should probably read what I've said. I'm not at all for cutting hours or salaries of public servants.

I think you're posting without reading what is being discussed. The issue is not about cutting public servants salaries, it is whether moving forward on a multi-million dollar project is feasible when taxpayers are stretched to the breaking point. You are making assumptions without reading what is being discussed or who has said what.

It's not a point of making enough or not enough, as I pointed out earlier if the median salary increase in the US is 2.9%, it seems unsustainable to think people can afford an 11% property tax increase on top of the projected 2% cost of living. You seem to assume that the average worker has access to some monies above and beyond their salary and their 2.9% raises. I don't believe that would be true for most.

 
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"You don't guarantee the next

"You don't guarantee the next generation a sustainable world through taxation.You guarantee the next generation a sustainable world through judicious use of tax monies so that the town's economy is healthy, there are jobs to be had and affordable housing."

How do you know this?"

I know it the same way I know that spending money on something doesn't necessarily fix anything unless you make sure what you are buying is 1. affordable and 2. likely to be effective for the use you are purchasing it for.
It's called common sense and the key word is judicious

 
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How do you know this

I know that the effect is cutting the income of public sector employees because I have watched it occur for about 40 years. 15 in NH and the previous 25 in Massachusetts. I am sure it is no one's intent (stated anyway) but that is how it goes.

 
 #

What has "Doubled" and Over What Timespan?

Let's get down to specifics here.

Rosa Bonheur, on December 21, 2013, you said "Since moving here my property taxes have pretty much doubled and as Elkins pointed out in his post, there's a record in recent years of doubling every 5 or 6 years."

"Elkins" appears to be talking through their hat. Here are the Brattleboro property tax rates since 2005:

2005 3.16
2006 2.28
2007 2.40
2008 2.52
2009 2.59
2010 2.69
2011 2.63
2012 2.64
2013 2.65

The rate number represents dollars in taxes assessed per hundred dollars of the assessed value of the property in question.

So I don't take what you are quoting "Elkins" as saying at face value.

Concerned about your own claim that your taxes "doubled", I called the Town Assessor's office, and they cannot find any record of anyone named 'Bonheur' owning property in Brattleboro. But seeing those rates, the only way your taxes could have doubled in the period since 2005 is if your property was re-assessed and nearly doubled in its assessed value.

 
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Wow John, you called the Town

Wow John, you called the Town Assessor's office to inquire as to what my tax payments are? REALLY? And then would you have felt free to share that information here on ibrattleboro or what? I take back my earlier post about commending you on your volunteerism. Seems like you're stepping up the volunteerism past what I would think would be seemly for someone who's involved in town governance. Nice way to operate. And you wonder why I don't get involved . . . you've pretty much summed it up in a nutshell with that move.

Trust me, or trust David Dunn, or trust Elkins or actually the person Elkins was quoting . My property has not been reassessed to double or even 1/10th highr of it's value and my tax bill has risen yearly to the point where it is almost double. I'm referring to the bill in total including school taxes.

Anybody else want to weigh in here? Of course be careful because if you use your name when posting Mr. John will be calling the town assessor's to double check on your figures. Just as a public service of course.

Now I feel compelled to go back over my tax figures, maybe I've been overcharged. If that turns out to be true, I'll owe Mr. John, but I won't be holding my breath. Something is screwy with your figures John, using your figures my tax bill would have been less in 2013 than 2005 and that sure wasn't what happened. So something is missing from this picture.

My experience is exactly what David Dunn and Elkins stated.
From Elkins post
"In 1984 the Town Finance Committee knew it. Unfortunately, town meeting reps chose to ignore the committee’s recommendations and property taxes in Brattleboro began doubling every five to seven years. The result has been twenty-three years of defensive budget cliché’s recited ad neausea during town meeting."

 
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Wow, John Called the Town! You Bet!

Sure I called them. Your property's assessed value and the taxes assessed on it are public information. You're free to "call the Town" and ask about mine if you like.

If you are going to claim publicly that your property taxes have doubled, you're making a political argument about excessive property tax increases, and you're making it publicly. So your claims are 'fair game' for any other resident of Brattleboro to investigate.

As it happens, your claims cannot be substantiated because there is no property listed in Brattleboro under your name. Or maybe 'Rosa Bonheur' is a pseudonym; a fake name? There have been plenty of political 'snipers' signing onto iBrattleboro under fake names and using their anonymity to make false claims and try to incite the public. Ask yourself ... if you are using a pseudonym, don't you think people would take you much more seriously if you posted under your own name?

You said: "... using your figures my tax bill would have been less in 2013 than 2005 ..." The figures came from the Town Assessor's office. And yes, for a property whose value was unchanged over the period, it would mean that there has been a decline in the dollars assessed as tax on that property. However, if you have recently put an addition onto your home, or even given it a badly-needed paint job, its value may have been assessed upwards.

I asked the Town Assessor to re-assess our property recently and it means our taxes will go up, police/fire project aside. Seems the Listers thought that part of our basement was unfinished, when in fact it was finished (and has been finished since I began living here in 1992).

 
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Apples to Apples please....

Sorry John, I believe your are failing to account for the last re-appraisal when a majority of homeowners received higher property value assessments. The grand list did not change much because the value of commercial property dropped. Quoting only the mill rate fails to take that change into account.

In 1995 when we purchased our home on Chestnut Hill, our taxes were somewhere around $2,500/year. I acknowledge we did some big improvements and in the last re-assessment our home was appraised at double it's original value (around 17 years later). Last year, our property tax bill was just shy of $13,000!!! Do I need to say more. We are a victim of our own success. As we improved, which benefited the neighborhood, our tax bill soared, as tax rates soared on their own, the overall impact crushed our the resale value.

When you combine this tax with mortgage costs, insurance and operating expenses, an owner needs a large six figure salary to qualify under new mortgage guidelines.

The point of my initial post remains. Middle/lower value homeowners are going to get crushed in the next re-assessment because a greater portion of the tax burden will be borne by them as a result of lower valuations for formerly higher end homes.

 
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"Apples to Apples?"

David, thank you for your thoughts. But calling for an "apples to apples" comparison is also taken as looking for an "all other things being equal" one. And your property is not a good example for that. I live at the bottom of Chestnut Hill and clearly the houses as you go up the hill are considered much more valuable. Perhaps your property's improvements do account for most of your change in assessed valuation?

By "the mill rate" I presume you are talking about the 2005-2013 tax rates I listed, which were given to me by the Assessor's Office over the phone today. Yes, the grand list hasn't changed much, and yes, if commercial property values drop (something that's no longer "equal") then private property-owners are asked to pick up the slack. So some property owners may indeed have seen their taxes go up.

Nevertheless, the figures do demonstrate that property tax rates have held pretty steady, in particular for the past four years, and over a longer time do not reflect huge increases in either tax rates or profligate public spending.

"Lower valuations for formerly high-end homes" is something we need to watch. The so-called "good paying jobs" of Vermont Yankee are going to be leaving us over the next few years.

[Those jobs actually pay way, way above every other standard or pay scale found in the Brattleboro area. They are an anomaly caused in part by the special economic conditions imposed by nuclear power, where the operating companies get to come in and take windfall profits, leaving the cost of cleaning up after them to the locals.]

So the people in the Yankee bubble-economy get nicer homes that cost more, and their taxes go down if they live in Vernon because Vernon got bought off by having half of its Town expenses paid by Yankee. As they leave, the prices of nicer homes in this area, including Brattleboro, will almost certainly decline. But this will mean that nicer homes are becoming more affordable to those outside the Yankee bubble-economy who would not have been able to buy them before.

So when the "nuclear nomads" leave (this is how they refer to themselves), things should return to a more 'normal' level of economic activity here. And hey, they don't hold it against us -- there's always another "good paying job" to go to somewhere else if you're a Nuclear Nomad.

 
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Sorry John

"[Those jobs actually pay way, way above every other standard or pay scale found in the Brattleboro area. They are an anomaly caused in part by the special economic conditions imposed by nuclear power, where the operating companies get to come in and take windfall profits, leaving the cost of cleaning up after them to the locals.]"

You clearly don't know what you are talking about, whether it's property taxes, windfall profits, or nuclear decommissioning.

The cost of cleaning up is NOT left to the locals. It's the responsibility of the public utility (in which case, the ratepayers may be ultimately liable for additional or unexpected costs) or the owner of the merchant plant (which VY is.)

In either case, the plant is required to have decommissioning fund (which in VY's case, is >$600 million) and is subject to federal regulations.

I encourage you to stop posting for awhile and do some basic research before resuming.

 
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Re Apples to Apples

The comment about tax rates holding steady refers to the Apples to Apples exchanges

 
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Come Clean. "Public Utility'?

And I encourage you to post using your real name ... who in hell wants to have a meaningful conversation with someone using the fake name of 'Putney Reject', let alone being told, in effect, to 'shut up' by them?

And who wants to read, in any meaningful forum, about Entergy or Vermont Yankee being a "public utility"? NOT! It's a 'merchant' nuclear power plant that sells its electricity on the commercial market and whose owner is totally dedicated to making a profit thereby. And Entergy will do what it has to to profit off you and me, the electricity users, because Entergy's shareholder owners will see to it that their management wrings every dollar they can out of us, and spends as much of the money already wrung out of us as they can .... on those "good paying" jobs that are so very much higher than other pay scales in the area, in part.

We, the ratepayers, have already paid into the decommissioning fund to a tune of several hundred million dollars. Entergy is in stewardship of both those funds and the responsibility to decommission the Vermont Yankee plant, returning its site, under law, to "green field" status. Yet they are now planning to stretch out the decommissioning process. On what rationale? So that the funds in the decommissioning fund will increase. Increase how? By letting money managers (Entergy's and others) rake in funds off the top from investing the decommissioning fund, leaving the risk that the fund might LOSE money to you and me. [It lost a huge percentage of its value during the financial services crash which evolved around the 2008 'recession'.]

This is why I say that the special circumstances of the nuclear power industry in effect leave the decommissioning to We, the People. We will have to pick up whatever shortfall there may possibly be, whether it is due to bad funds management, another housing bubble bursting and the next resulting recession, or the eventual exorbitant public cost of reining in global warming so that we don't fry our lovely planet to death.

Because we live in a country that permits capitalism, some people will always try to stretch that premise and be entrepreneurs (French for 'go in and take'), practicing laissez faire capitalism (French for 'let them do what they want'), or unregulated profit-taking. We used to have a "public interest" electrical utility in this State, and in fact the entity called Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Corporation still exists ... on paper. But it doesn't own the plant anymore, and neither do We the People. Yet if the corporation that owns it goes bankrupt and ceases operations, We the People will have to run that plant, clean up their messes, rectify their poor planning, and return that riverside field in Vernon to "green" status.

And the question whether or not there will be enough money available in the decommissioning fund to do the job right is being kicked down the field about one more generation, when the same people won't be running Entergy anymore, and the same people won't be in government anymore. So the answer to that all-important question is this:

"NO, there isn't enough money to decommission the plant and return the site to green field status, and possibly there never will be. You, the People, will have to content yourself with the *possibility* that the funds will increase through wise investment, and that *maybe* there will be enough money to do it right someday."

That's *OUR* money, mind you, paid into a fund by the ratepayers. Why did we do that? Because the need to clean up high-level nuclear waste and make sure it doesn't poison, kill, or mutate people and other living things is a social need. It is a social need because our right to live in an environment benign or positive to our health, and that of our children, and that of our childrens' childrens' children, is a human right. And the policies and practices we permit to occur today are thus in violation of our descendants' human rights. In other words, we of today are in a terrible conflict with our own descendants, down far into the foreseeable future and way, way beyond that, because no one can foresee events and conditions 100,000 years from now and more (the half-life of many radioactive elements found in high-level nuclear waste).

I'm not a socialist in any meaningful political sense, and very few people I know would call themselves that ... the legacy, perhaps, of the McCarthy anti-communist years. But the need to deal properly with nuclear waste and highly-lethal radioactivity is a need that will be socialized far into the future whether we like it or not, whether we choose to think of it that way or not ... long past the lifetimes of the people running Entergy and Vermont Yankee, long past the lifetimes of even our childrens' childrens' children. We need policies and practices today that safeguard those future children ... their lives, their futures ... and all of life on Earth.

And we have lost our honor as human beings if we allow any situation to develop that would compromise our descendants' safety from radioactive nuclear waste. Think Fukushima ... on steroids. Then ask yourself, 'What am I doing to do about this'?

 
 #

Re-read my post

I was very clear in stating that VY was a merchant plant, let me repost it.

"The cost of cleaning up is NOT left to the locals. It's the responsibility of the public utility (in which case, the ratepayers may be ultimately liable for additional or unexpected costs) or the owner of the merchant plant (which VY is.)"

I think you are also confusing the decommissioning fund and the spent fuel fund.

Why would the hell would I want to have a discussion with someone who is so clueless and so close minded?

 
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You? Who are you?

Dear reader: in case you are wondering, the anonymous mister (or ms) "Putney Reject" offered the first ad hominem attack in this exchange, to wit: "clueless and close (sic) minded".

Your question "Why would the hell would I want to have a discussion with someone who is so clueless and so close minded?" becomes meaningless when one reflects on the fact that practically no one reading this even knows who you are.

As does your thoughtless reference to me as "clueless and so close minded" ... precisely what mind (yours) is offering such a not-so-charitable appraisal? As one reflects on this question, if one is so inclined, the question of your identity becomes so important that any other consideration pales into insignificance.

My thoughts offered here have a thousand times the value of yours, because I attach my real name to them and stand by them. And yes, I am ready to admit it if I am wrong, with my name and reputation attached to that too. That means something; something akin to the sense of honor that used to attach to 'fighting fair'.

If your example holds for the rest of the population, not many people are left who understand the concepts of 'honor' or 'fighting fair' anymore. In a day and time where people can crouch behind computer screens in southern California and launch bombs and rockets from drones to destroy wedding parties in Afghanistan, you can get away with slathering your meaningless insults and detractions anonymously on iBrattleboro, sort of like sniping from behind a rock. I no longer have the right to even ask who is so demeaning themselves to insult me.

I leave it to the reader to decide what's important for themselves and for their own benefit ... I think I have just made it fairly clear what is *unimportant* to me.

 
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I wonder

Do you get tired up on that cross?

Would you like to address the fact that you misread my original post concerning VY as a merchant plant and thus wasted hundreds of words on a misplaced rant or do you want to cry about about not knowing my name?

I will leave it to the dear readers to decide.

 
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Name?

I could GAS about your name. It's the content that counts.

 
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Property rates have held steady??????

Let's simplify those figures.
Taxes on a house are $2,500
Since taxes are done by percentages
A house double that assessed value would at that time have had a tax bill of $5,000
Taxes on that double value house are now $13,000
That would be an doubling of the tax rate PLUS another 60% in 17 years.
You can use all the magical thinking you want but that still doesn't equate to holding steady in anyone's world except those who want to engage in same said magical thinking.

It is percentages, everyone's home is taxed at the same rate per 100 of assessed value. That means that the same must hold true for every homeowner in town. While changes in assessed values can have an effect on tax rates, the fact remains that based on the figures that Mr. Dunn volunteered, it cannot be disputed that tax rates (property and education combined, which is how the bill is presented) have doubled and then some in the past 17 years.

Reassessments up or down are not going to make much of a dent in that figure or sad set of facts.

 

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