Suffolk city strikes oil

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 30, 2004

For a few years the boys and girls downtown have had easy pickings when it comes to finding ways to get more money out of our pockets. It may appear to be morally wrong but it’s legal and within the guidelines issued by the Commonwealth. It is called a property tax on your home and land. Why is it easy pickings? Since 1998 property values have increased an average 7.2 percent annually nation wide. Why? You can thank the downward trend of mortgage rates. That rate in the year 2000 was 8.7 percent. This year it was down to 5.9 percent or lower. During those years people discovered they could get much bigger loans for the same monthly payments…a gold mine or could those loans and home equity loans become a family curse?

Back in 2000 the median price of a home was $140,000. By the end of 2003 it had risen to $172,000 but who settles for median? In 2000 a $1500 monthly payment would support a loan of $191,000. But now $1500 will buy a home worth $253,000, a difference of $62,000, so why not? Especially when both man and wife are employed. The average home size went from 1900 square feet to 2300. Look up in north Suffolk where many folks have left smaller homes elsewhere to purchase bigger ones there when they discovered the &uot;power&uot; of money. They found they could live better for the same dollars. The result is higher property values and higher property taxes. A national figure indicates that millions of homeowners tapped their equity for $223 billion and $124 billion of that went into remodeling. Same result…higher property values. It is not over, the fat lady has not sung…nationally property values are guesstimated to increase 6.4 percent this year.

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One fellow I know said his new address has lifted his family to a level that their paychecks will not support. You don’t have to look far, even in Suffolk, to find million dollar houses. Some folks have bitten off more than they can chew and repossessions are quite common. In fact it is an industry, buy the repos, fix them up and resell them. Others who have misjudged their ability to pay have given up owning furniture. Others, seeking new depths, buy all they need on the no-interest-no-pay basis and hope to deal with it at a later date. Then there’s the game of refinancing year after year and stretching payments out additional years, like to age 95. Americans live in their home an average of six years; I’ve been in mine 24 and will die in it unless the assessor kills me first.

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So the bridge’s days are numbered and could fall at any moment. VDOT has backed off any repairs and will post new weight limits. Your car, regardless of make or model will be OK but there will be a guard at each end watching for extra large people that could make passage dangerous. I’m thinking about a lottery to help out the first car or pickup to smash through the roadway. That person would be the winner so only those who often make the transit will buy an annual ticket. VDOT guesses it will be five years before a new bridge is installed so there is no time limit and no need to purchase more than one ticket each year. It’s not at all like the Commonwealth lotteries where the desperate poor give up foodstuffs to buy the most tickets hoping to increase the odds of winning. They say 11,000 cars will cross that bridge daily and that could mean a sizeable prize if all drivers participate. If it happens at the end of the fifth year the winner collects $55,000.

Franklin Roosevelt introduced the Social Security program. He promised 1) that participation in the program would be strictly voluntary. 2) participants would only have to pay 1% of the first $1400. 3) the money contributed would be deductible for income tax purposes. 4) the money would stay in the FICA trust fund and not be used for any other government purposes. 5) the payments would never be taxed as income. 6) Lyndon Johnson, another Democrat, took it out of the trust fund. 7) Al Gore cast the deciding Senate vote and started taxing benefits. 8) Jimmy Carter started the program to give benefits to immigrants. Now the Democrats are saying that the Republicans want to take your Social Security away and the usual uninformed citizens believe it.

It’s easy to agree with Roy W. Weaver Jr. who doesn’t think we need a new employee to handle incoming questions about renting the Hilton. The Tourist Director has been fielding calls expertly and has plenty of time to deal with the one inquiry per day.

Robert Pocklington is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be contacted via e-mail: