Seven on Council to decide your fate

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 2, 2003

Lots of traffic down at the Assessor’s Office immediately after the fresh notices hit the mailboxes. Some refer to that office as the Accessors. We didn’t see anybody protesting out on the streets, but the parking lot was packed. Some came storming out of their cars to get in the line inside, prepared to do battle. Some appeared bewildered by the big boost in home values and were already pained at the thought of selling their boat to raise the money. But many others stayed home figuring that even though they were hit with an increase they had dodged a bullet. In those cases it is best to say nuttin’ to nobody. Some had been unfairly increased and appeared with their lawyers, bent upon justice. And they found an audience there, willing to listen to reason but not to bombastic arguments.

To most of us, including me, it is a mystery what increases are based upon, and who makes the determinations. Over the years I’ve heard many explanations but no one could give me an answer in 250 words or less. I’ve heard the State blamed because it has some highly secret formula it applies haphazardly. I’ve also heard that a bunch of city hall people get together with the Director of Finances, calculate how much they will need for their thoughtful spending and pick a number that will satisfy requirements. If the totals exceed what’s required, they toy with lowering the tax rate. That happens about as often as Halley’s Comet goes whizzing by our planet. The Commonwealth Treasurer and Commissioner both raise their hands claiming absolute innocence. They merely send out the bills and take in the cash – their hearts and hands being lily white. Both say they’d give the money back but their wives won’t let them.

Some say the whole matter is based upon the value of your neighbor’s house. If some damn fool near you adds a front porch you might just as well do it too because your valuation is going up the same as his. But if the paint falls off your neighbor’s house neither one of you will see a decrease. Let’s say all the houses in your subdivision are worth exactly $180,000. But then the schmuck on the corner adds a garage and the a$$e$$or – they have spies everywhere – spots it. Guess what happens to the value of your house? You haven’t done a thing, haven’t even cut the grass for a month, but the neighborhood average value is up because you get to look at his spiffy new garage. What might work is to put an old wringer-type washing machine on your porch, tie a scroungy looking coonhound to a beat up doghouse in the front yard, and break a few windows.

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Another mystery to me is why so many see it as a positive when the value of their home goes up even though they intend to die in it. If mine dropped all the way to zero we could spend two weeks in the Bahamas with the money saved. And if it were valued at nothing my kids wouldn’t dare sell it after my wife and I go to our new home in the sky. We’ve spent 23 years making it pretty and we’d be sore as hell if they unloaded it. I want them to work their butts off just like we have.

God help you if you live anywhere near water. They tell me about one fellow whose house is miles from water but a storm drain plugged, flooded the entire block and the assessors were on him for waterfront like a hawk on a squirrel. The water subsided but too late for that year. I look out on a lake but argued that Norfolk owns the shoreline all around it. Obviously water view is just as desirable and taxable as waterfront. And the fact that it’s the back of our house that faces the water makes no difference. You can’t win against people that desperate for money.

So what do some people do? Social Security went up a pittance. Company pensions all over the country were flat, businesses are closing, unemployment is up; costs for food, medicine, and everything else is increasing. Your stock in American companies is cut in half and it’s often cheaper to burn gin in your car than gasoline. Yet they find ways to claim your property is worth ten percent more than last year. It’s in their hands – so will our empathetic council members open their hearts and lower the tax rate? The odds are better that North Korea will blow itself up.


Many are upset that our military has not found WMD, weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. But if they’d just think for a minute they’d realize Saddam Hussein himself was a proven weapon of mass destruction. We haven’t found him either but he’s not appearing in any more movies.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.