David Rodeback's Blog
Local Politics and Culture, National Politics,
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
My Letter Opposing a Large Property Tax Increase
It's not about waste. It's about economic pressure on ordinary households, and about a serious, long-term political hazard.
Note: The formatting is different here than on the printed page, but the text is the same.
July 15, 2008
Re: Possible Property Tax Increases and Bond Issues
Dear Mayor Thompson and Members of the American Fork City Council:
You know me to be a resident of American Fork who both votes and attempts to stay informed about the operations of local government and the issues of the day. I write with serious concerns about a large property tax increase and general obligation bond proposals the City Council is considering.
I fancy myself a reasonable man, and I understand that the Utah "truth in taxation" statute puts municipalities in a difficult position. Because state law doesn't allow for inflation when property tax rates are calculated, it is necessary to impose a small tax "increase" every year, if City revenues from the same set of properties are to remain at the same level in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars from year to year. Therefore, I not only don't object to an annual "increase" of three to five percent; I actually think it wise.
I also understand that circumstances may sometimes require a larger increase; I don't object to another five percent every few years, if it's really necessary, including this year.
I have read with some alarm that you are considering a tax increase of up to 50 percent, to be followed by up to four bond issues on the November ballot, which could combine to double that increase.
My major concerns are not about waste. I have read the work session minutes and studied the numbers there. I see very little that I would consider waste or frivolity; nearly everything seems good, and much of it seems necessary. I am aware that some of it is urgent. But this does not mitigate my two major concerns. One is economic; the other is political.
As to economics, please understand: Residential water bills are increasing significantly; I believe most American Fork residents understand and accept that. Gas prices and other energy costs are straining many household budgets directly and making everything else more expensive, too. Residents don't blame you for this, but the effects are real enough. We are not technically in a recession, but the economy seems soft. And it has been only two years since you imposed a large and, I admit, necessary property tax increase, which I publicly supported. That voters were willing to pass the water bond just a few months after that increase suggests that they generally accepted both as necessary. I don't think you can count on the same support and understanding this year.
My political concern is actually greater. I believe there is considerable risk that, if there is a large tax increase this year, the current excellent Council will be succeeded in the next two elections by a decidedly inferior council dominated by the anti-tax radicals with which Utah abounds. They will not raise taxes at all for any reason, including to keep up with inflation, and they will therefore (among other errors) dig us into a deep fiscal hole very much like the one this Council inherited. Such an outcome would be very bad for city residents and their government.
Assuming that there will be a tax increase of some size or other, and that there will be bond issues on the ballot in November, my votes on those bond issues -- and the votes I suggest to others -- will depend on the size of your tax increase.
If your tax increase is five percent or less, I will carefully consider the bond issues proposed and vote for one or two of them, if I judge them sufficiently urgent and important, and if their impact on my property taxes is relatively small. At the moment, I am inclined to think my best choices would be cemetery land and finishing Art Dye Park, if they are on the ballot.
If your tax increase is no more than ten percent, I will vote for the one bond issue I think most important -- likely one of the two I mentioned.
If your tax increase exceeds ten percent, I will vote against all bond issues, and later I will vote against all City incumbents who seek re-election, except those who vote against this large tax increase.
At home I have to make hard choices, deciding what good things I will have at the expense of some good things I will delay or do without altogether. American Fork residents need you to understand the current financial pressures on typical households and make some hard choices of your own -- with our economic and political welfare in mind, not just a wish list of desirable budget items.
Thank you for your consideration and for your devoted service to the city.
Copyright 2008 by David Rodeback.