Sunday, March 1, 2015

$200 homeowner surcharge - say it ain't so

Trash talk.  It's the topic du jour in Morrisville.  "Solid waste" as it's more formally known comes up in municipal discussions all the time.  It does.  But this year's discussion is......  different.  Edgier.  Less about policy and more about winners and losers.  A bit about smoke and mirrors.  

For years, maybe always, Morrisville has provided trash pick-up (er, solid waste services) to homeowners without sending a separate bill.  Homeowners paid their property taxes to the town, the town paid the folks who went up and down streets emptying big cans into bigger trucks.  But over the years, more homes were built and the costs went up. What to do, what to do........

That's a tough one.  But here's what NOT to do:  assess each Morrisville homeowner a $200 annual surcharge, call it a trash collection fee and fund municipal improvements with the windfall.  For those homeowners who live in the "average" home valued at $265k, the surcharge amounts to........

(wait for it, wait for it)

19% more than they currently pay in real estate taxes.

For residents who live in more modest homes, the % increase, of course, goes up.  That's the nature of regressive taxation.  And from where I sit, funding municipal services on the backs of those least able to afford it is no way to go about the business of municipal government.  

According to the Cary News, Mayor Stohlman has said that by assessing the $200 homeowner fee, the town could keep the tax rate the same while paying for voter-approved bonds, plus an extra 1 cent’s worth of revenue – about $380,000 – left over to put toward other projects.

The town would win in such a scenario, the mayor has said, by bringing in more money while keeping its property tax rate the same.  

Rate, schmate.  We've been down this road before.  Yes we have.  And it didn't end well.  If I'm currently paying $1033 for town services and that number jumps to $1233 in 2016, that's a tax increase for me.  Of 19%.
Leaders we elect to provide for our communities have difficult jobs.  They do.  For the most part, local officials do the work they were elected to do with little appreciation and the equivalent of minimum wage in compensation.  Most of them do what they do, quite frankly, because they want to serve their communities.  They want to improve their communities, "improve" open to individual interpretation.  (Ok, some enter public service with an ax to grind, a desire to punch other elected officials in their figurative noses.  Publicly. But truly, they are in the minority.)  And surely, truly, Morrisville's elected officials want only to make our community.....  better.  Better.  Whatever that means.  What it does not mean:  requiring those who own homes fund better.  That's worse.