Monday, November 05, 2007

Thoughts on levies - money doesn't grow on trees

While I've said a lot on Eye on Toledo about the tax levies, I wanted to emphasize some specific points made - and highlight a couple of comments made by callers.

First, whether or not you can AFFORD the levies, I think it's contradictory to say people need various government programs because they can't afford their food, gasoline, heating, homes ... and then vote to raise the taxes that they pay. So, as liberals are so fond of saying, remember those who are less fortunate when you vote Tuesday because a yes vote on these levies is not just to tax yourself more - but to tax EVERYONE more - regardless of their individual ability to afford the additional costs.

If you still don't know how these levies will impact you, visit the AREIS website and put in your name or address and then, under DATA, look at the 'levy estimator' option. It shows what you're currently paying, how much the specific levy will add and how much the total will be.

If these levies fail, I'll save about $270. If they all pass, I'll pay 62% more. In fact, I queried about two dozen properties and found that the increase varies between 62-65%. When was the last time that you voted to raise your costs by that much?

If you haven't yet decided how to vote on these issues, please visit the WSPD podcasts for Fred Lefebvre, Brian Wilson and me and listen to what the representatives actually said (Fred's interview), listen to the analysis of the interview (Brian's show) and then what the callers and others had to say (my show).

A lot of people have suggested that only property owners should be able to vote on property tax levies. I disagree with this because renters do pay property taxes through their rents - even if it's not as obvious to them that they do so. Some landlords have even begun to include a clause in their lease that gives them the ability to increase the rent when the property taxes go up.

However, another caller suggested that the law about how property tax levies are passed should be changed to require that a 'majority of property owners' must vote yes in order to have such levies pass, rather than just a majority of 'voters.' This is something I found very intriguing, but highly unlikely, as there would be significant opposition to such a change in the law.

As for the specific levies, I don't believe that COSI should be on the ballot. They are a private, non-profit organization that had a bad business plan and didn't do anything to change their business plan other than plan to go to the voters for money at some time in the future. Further, according to their interview on WSPD, they haven't changed their failed business plan - meaning that the failures they've had in the past will likely continue.

In 2006 I voted against putting COSI on the ballot (Resolution 2006-1240 dated 8-22-06). Nothing that COSI has said or done since then has given me any reason to change my mind.

TARTA's levy is for 10 years. There aren't a lot of things I buy today that are expected to last for 10 years - and we've seen significant changes in how people 'move' over the last 10 years to give anyone pause when considering this levy. TARTA has not responded well to the changing needs of the community and I cannot help but wonder if part of their reasoning is based upon 'ridership.'

Under federal law, they count 'rides' not 'riders,' so a person who takes the bus to and from work counts as 2 rides, not 1 rider. If you transfer, you've now given them 4 rides but still just 1 rider. Knowing that federal support is dependent upon increasing the number of rides, rather than increasing the actual number of people, is it likely that routes are structured to include transfers? I don't know, but if it is likely, we've got federal rules that actually promote inefficient operation of our local public buses. And then there was the comment James Gee made on the WSPD interview that he believes it's better to run large empty buses than to switch over to smaller, more efficient vehicles.

And this is the leadership in the agency asking for 10 years of funding while spending $2.9 million from their cash reserves to cover a budget deficit this year.

The MetroParks and Library levies are also up for vote. While I really like both these organizations, their work and their services, I think it's time they had a wake-up call, like so many of us have had over the past several years. They continue to think that their needs are more important than ours and that their increased costs should just be covered by us, despite the fact that so many of us are running our homes on less money. We've all made cuts in how we live and it's time these organizations do the same.

I'm not expecting that there will be continuing high levels of service, but I'm willing to scale back my expectations in order to help them reduce their costs. But, if they make their cuts in order to impose the most hardship on their constituents, they won't get my support in the future - either in votes on levies nor in membership/donations. The Library could cut morning hours in order to stay open weekends and nights when adults are less likely to be working. Instead of expanding, the MetroParks could delay or eliminate additional land purchases, leaving more of their operating funds to cover what we already have.

And if they were to do these things, the 'quality of life' in Lucas County would not be negatively impacted - nor would the sky fall. In fact, had these organizations asked for a renewal (collecting the same amount of money as they have in the past) instead of a replacement (collecting the same millage but on the higher property values of today) levy, I might have voted in favor of them, as it's what I've already budgeted. But when my personal income - like so many others - is down, costs are up, and I've modified my lifestyle accordingly, I think it's only fair that our 'public institutions' do the same.

When we were younger, we'd go to Mom or Dad and ask for money for this or that purchase or expense, much like these organizations are doing to the voters. And the phrase accompanying the 'NO' answer we so often heard? "Money doesn't grow on trees." Perhaps it's time that the voters in Lucas County started acting like the grownups we are and tell these organizations the same.

UPDATE: For another good perspective on the levies, read this blog post from Just Blowing Smoke.


Tim Higgins said...


Thanks for the recommendation, and I think that you have it exactly right. It is terribly important that these organizations, whose mandate is to serve the public, take the time to prepare a rigorous business plan when asking for our generousity.

I also think that it the currently system, which allows multiple levies for some of these organizations, is disingenuous at best. Attempting to hide the pain of the taxpayer in this manner doesn't lessen the burden, only the honesty of the group asking for the money.

The quality of life in Toledo and Lucas County is not determined by having the biggest Library, Public transportation syste, or Park system; but by having one that meets the needs of the community.

Hooda Thunkit said...

These organizations apparently have no awareness of climate, as in political and/or economic climate.

When the community is struggling, you should do everything that you can to cut your costs FIRST, before going to the voters for any more money.

But, the chutzpah to go for an increase via a replacement and advertising it as not a new tax, while conveniently forgetting to mention that it will increase your taxes is unconscionable.

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