Are tax bills dollars without sense?
Whether it first was uttered by Mark Twain or by Benjamin Disraeli, there’s much truth to the adage about there being three ways to deceive — lies, damned lies, and statistics.
All three seem to be involved in untangling line items in property tax budgets being presented this summer by 86 governmental units in the county. Each appears to be waiting at the trough to slurp up as much money as it can from county property owners.
Why we need 86 taxing units is the first question to ponder. Is it really necessary to have separate townships, fire districts, cemetery districts, watershed districts, and the like, all serving the same area? Think of the overhead each requires — and how a series of modest tax increases from several of them can swell immodestly to a huge overall tax bill.
Most of us like the idea of five high schools in the county even if we might wish they could play each other in sports more often so students don’t have to take so many time- and money-consuming bus trips all over the state.
But do we really need five separate districts with five separate superintendents, each more or less doing the same thing at salaries well above the county average for pay?
It’s amazing, as well, that whenever we create a new taxing unit — like the Marion-Florence Recreation District this year or the Chisholm Trail Extension District last year — the new unit always seems to want a new batch of mills trimmed off our wealth while whatever unit used to pay its bills doesn’t seem to cut its budget accordingly.
The number of separate lines on our tax bills reminds us of what we see when we renew our license plates.
We understand there’s one fee for the tag and a separate fee for personal property taxes. But why do we need to know there’s a separate charge for highway patrol staffing and training, a separate fee for the Law Enforcement Training Center, a Department of Motor Vehicles modernization fee, and a county service fee — particularly when you can’t avoid any of them, especially the last one.
If instead of paying the county fee you try to pay the state directly, there’s a “convenience fee” for that — one that seems more of an inconvenience fee in reality. Isn’t it amazing that the only places in the state that can charge extra to recover the extra cost of taking debit or credit cards are government offices?
It’s probably too much information, especially for people boiling tar and packing chicken feathers in the backs of their pickups, but most Wednesday nights, you can find this ink-stained scribe celebrating completion of yet another issue with a hamburger steak at Wagon Wheel Express in Marion.
Prices of various things that Keith and Sherry Hess have to buy to make my meal have been rising, and the price I have to pay them has shot up accordingly.
Until now, at least, the Hesses haven’t thought to add separate surcharges for ketchup, salad dressing, silverware, and a napkin.
Perhaps we at the newspaper should start charging a base fee for subscriptions plus surcharges for the pieces of paper we print on, the cost of actually doing the printing, mailing costs (which went up 20% on July 1), and even the cost of sending you a bill at renewal time. Truth is, those costs are probably more than the total we get from you for a subscription.
Everybody seems to do this. AT&T lists 12 surcharges on its bills. DirecTV lists 12 as well — with no credit for not carrying KSNW-TV and its daily “Jeopardy!” episode. Atmos Energy has 11 charges, including $1.37 for natural gas, in a $31.45 bill. Among Atmos’s surcharges is an “ad valorem surcharge,” which sounds remarkably like a charge for paying its property taxes — an idea the Hesses and the newspaper might consider adding to their bills.
In Marion County, that’s about all Atmos probably can do to complain about taxes and whether governments are inflating the estimated 2.5% increase in prices the federal government thinks they have to pay.
Human taxpayers, on the other hand, have more that they can do. Coming up are a series of budget meetings in which elected officials are required by law to listen to comments and objections and at least try to answer questions.
If you want to complain about your taxes in November, when bills come out, the time to actually do something about it is now. Check the notices in our Classifieds section or visit http://mnks.us/rnr/ to find out when the boards, councils, and commissions that create line items on your tax bill meet and can actually do something about those bills.
Speak up. Silence is golden only for government coffers.
— ERIC MEYER