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Posts Tagged ‘Taxes’

Someone Really Wants You to Know Your Taxes “Could Go Up 7 Percent”

Posted by whforums on January 7, 2009

The question of “why is this news” was probably lost when your eyes bulged out of your head.

From an article in The Courant today:

If no programs or personnel are cut and state aid doesn’t increase, residents will likely be facing a tax hike of about 7 percent in fiscal year 2009-10.

The town council and school board will host a community summit Jan. 28 to begin identifying which services to preserve and which to cut, and to spell out what local officials can and cannot do with respect to union contracts, property revaluation and other issues.

“We think that 7 percent is unacceptable, but it’s going to take significant program cuts to lower it,” Mayor Scott Slifka said Tuesday. “The changes could be dramatic, and the community needs to be part of that discussion.” …

Hoping for a large turnout, officials are seeking participation from business owners, parents, union members, the Exchange and Rotary clubs and other fraternal groups, the West Hartford Taxpayers Association, which has opposed the last several budgets, and West Hartford FIRST, which has supported those budgets, particularly in the area of education funding.

The whole thing catches me a little bit short — the announcement of such a startling “possible” tax increase could simply be an effort to increase turnout at the January 28th meeting (to really listen to the community and to seek help from the community — a “people, help your government with this problem” moment). In that case, it’s a beautiful example of democracy. In an election year, however, a 7% tax increase seems unlikely (and we already know where some budget cuts can be made — like leaf collection). This makes the cynical voice in my head say “How do you get people to swallow a 3.5% tax increase? You tell ’em you’re going to increase their taxes 7% first.” Or maybe, since no one likes cutting programs and personnel, this is a wake up call to that necessity, or, at best, a way to make that necessity more palatable (or politically safe). Or maybe it’s just a way to ratchet pressure on the state — one of the above “ifs” is “if state aid does not increase.” This seems equally likely considering there is likely going to be state aid coming from Washington soon (though I’m not sure it will be here soon enough for the start of the West Hartford budget making season).

The WHTA is encouraging the Council to reject the new teacher contract (which ensures raises, above and beyond step increases, of 1 and 1.25 percent — which, as I figured in some post somewhere else, is about the cost of a year of leaf collection). The Council seems unlikely to do so. Asking the union to accept a pay freeze or a step freeze for academic year 09-10 doesn’t seem unacceptable to me, but there would have to be a a significant payoff (in pay or step increase) down the road. And it would be unfair to ask teachers to take a pay freeze if other town employees don’t take the same pay freeze (granted, with union contracts, such equal “treatment” of all employees is likely impossible).

So. Yeah. Your taxes “could” go up 7 percent. What’s the strategy behind news like that?

Posted in Budget, budget cuts, Crap Economy, Local Democracy, Sorry I'm So Cynical, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

The Taxman Came, And He Billed Me in Ethics

Posted by whforums on July 16, 2008

So, like the rest of you, I got my tax bill this past weekend. 2 cars and one house later, we’re feeling the pinch. We’ve got an ’03 Corrola (which seems to me to be taxed reasonably) and ’07 Prius (which is taxed at an out-of-this-world rate) and an oldish, smallish house (we’re raised ranch people, not McMansion people), which I also think is taxed pretty reasonably. If you’re living in more house than you can afford, or if you’re living in a house you can just barely afford, or if you’ve recently experienced a significant drop in income, I can see how these property taxes could really push you to the brink.

I guess I’m just sort of conflicted about our current situation, West Hartford. When I look at the national sub-prime fiasco – the over-valuation of homes and the predatory lending –there’s an undeniable voice (a cynical, nasty voice I don’t like very much) in the back of my head that says “If you can’t afford the taxes on your house, you shouldn’t have bought the damn house.” But I also recognize that tax rates are literally forcing long-standing residents out of our town, that a house that was once affordable for a family or couple no longer is. And of course by living in a place for a long time – whether it’s a home or a town – you take ownership over that place (it becomes yours, in deed and idea). That taxes (alongside ARMs and crashing portfolios) are forcing some folks out of town is a shame – while my wife and I are living within our means at the moment (as soon as I write that the image of the tax bill for the Prius floats before my eyes), it’s certainly true that, across the crooked, potholed roads of our lives, our means (and our taxes) will always be in flux.

Here’s a confession: I grew up in West Hartford, and when I was 18, I took off and said I “I’m never coming back.” As far as I was concerned West Hartford was snobby and stuck-up – a town where the only thing more difficult than starting a conversation was finding a way not to be judged. I came back to West Hartford 3 years ago (after 10 years away – it’s a long, non-bloggy kind of story) and found a town that, via the services it provides, really does try its best to take care of its residents. And beyond our diversity – which is probably our town’s greatest strength (as much as some love to tout our bond rating) – it’s really our services that make West Hartford a wonderful place to live (and to raise kids). We have 6 wonderful parks (and, incidentally, 6 pools), we have responsible police (and, I might add, a day-to-day safety we take for granted), we have a great fire department, lights-out teachers, three great public libraries (with great librarians) and two senior centers. In other words, we complain a lot, but, most days, I feel like we’re getting our money’s worth.

And I could easily end this post with that optimistic feeling. I mean, it’s genuine. I could write:
“So, like anybody else, while I’m writing checks to the town this month, I’m not going to be very happy (I’m cheap, ok – I’m one of those “add water to the ketchup to get all of it out” people. I use a bar of soap to its molecular level). At the same time, the taxes we pay aren’t just taxes … they’re fees for services rendered. And while we can certainly have an argument about whether the cliché “you get what you pay for” applies to government spending, when I look at my total half-assessment on my property taxes (there’s that Prius bill again, floating behind my eyes), I still feel like, in West Hartford, I’m getting good value for my money.”

And you know what? I really believe that.

But it’s romanticism all the same, and a kind of romanticism I can only allow myself to believe so far. And while I love West Hartford, and while I’m currently able to pay my taxes and take advantage of town services, I can’t ignore the fact that not everyone is so fortunate. And so, looking at my tax bills, I’m left with a simple, but I think difficult, ethical question:

To what degree are you and I responsible to help those who find themselves being priced out of town (whether through their own poor planning or through unpredictable financial circumstances), and, if we are responsible (we are all responsible for our neighbors, yes?), what on earth do we do about it? Where do we draw the line between the services that make our town a wonderful place to live and the ethical compulsion to make sure that those who want to live here can live here?

More simply: My taxes? They’re not too high. They’re fine. But Willy Loman’s long standing point resounds today as much as it did in 1949; “You can’t eat the orange and throw the peel away …”

Posted in Abstract Babble, Ethics, Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

West Hartford, Here’s What Your Mill Rate Would Be …

Posted by whforums on July 14, 2008

A longer post on taxes tomorrow, but for now, a simple question of tone.

Our mill rate right now is a fairly craptastic 37.09 (I can’t find figures for tax year 2007, but I’m pretty certain that’s in the upper tier of mill rates for the state). Ok – you live in (or move to) West Hartford knowing the mill rate is going to be high. So what’s the deal with putting the above pictured on our tax bills?

Call me tone deaf if you will, but am I supposed to feel grateful, threatened, or something else entirely?

Posted in Taxes, West Hartford | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »