A legal form of torture\

Published 12:00 am Monday, July 5, 2004

Very soon humanity must be inserted into the property tax rules forced on citizens who are not responsible for what causes increases in their assessed valuation. It appears to me that the officials who govern our city care little about the financial burden of individuals caught in the trap of increasing home and land values. Perhaps because the salaries of many city employees insure they are not sorely affected by overblown values determined by hard and fast rules that damage so many people.

An example: John Doe bought a home he could afford when he retired many years ago and was wise enough to have saved some money to see him through his final years. Because he kept his home and property in good condition, nearly every year he has had to wince when his assessed valuation outpaced his income.

His efforts to keep his property in excellent condition caused him financial pain and made it necessary to surrender much of his family protected savings to pay the ever-increasing property taxes. He was in no way responsible for the increase in property values. A formula used by government proves it worth much more than when he purchased it. It means nothing to anyone that he could afford it then but not now.

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He is trapped and no one cares.

The powers that be have concocted criteria for financial relief but it punishes the property owner because there is no way he can qualify without reducing his savings and lowering his life style dramatically. This is no reward for having maintained a decent home and property that in a &uot;formulae’s eyes&uot; has increased in value. Not to him it hasn’t. It’s the same place he’s nursed for 30 years. It’s not his fault the trees grew larger… nature made him put on a new roof and pride forced him to keep it painted.

Every year we hear some politician state an interest in finding a fair and just answer to this human problem. And every year no one has the guts to actually take the first step, get it on the agenda. And every year the Council spends every red cent it takes from the public, making sure city employees get sufficient raises so they can afford to pay their property taxes. John Doe received no raise except for the pitiful increases in Social Security, for which he is grateful. Those increases certainly don’t keep pace with the property tax increases and he would rather use the money for food and medicine.

I’ve had but slight increases in income in eighteen years of retirement including the piddling FICA. But I’ve seen my property values go up 280 percent and my taxes 260 percent. And all I’ve ever done is cut the grass. Some fool is always saying I should be happy that it is worth so much more. On what grounds – I have no intention of selling, we have labored nearly two decades and our sweat equity is not for sale. We had a 33 percent increase on our land this spring and the axe will fall again next year when the formula establishes our home is again worth more.

Homes are sprouting like mushrooms all over the city increasing the tax take but the Council and City Manager manage to find a use for every last penny. Not even a symbolic decrease in the tax rate of a measly cent. I’m waiting for that politician to again say he will look into the problem…or the Public Relations Director explain away the problem for the elderly.

Obviously the affected citizens are hapless and any fuss made by them falls on deaf ears.

I wonder how many in Suffolk who can’t meet current relief conditions are victims of a formula that could be amended to give them breathing room. Or is it the purpose of taxation to force people to exhaust their savings or, worse, sell their homes? It is way past time a little humanity was built into the system.

Robert Pocklington lives in Suffok and is a regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at robert.pocklington-@suffolknewsherald.com