Cha-ching: Spending is the priority

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 14, 2005

The city manager and his spending team are working hard to deny any chance for a real estate tax reduction this year, just as they did last year.

The party-line is; there’s so much more spending to do to transform our community especially downtown, that giving anything back to the citizens is just not sound public policy…

Yet with astronomically high property assessments again this year, a rate reduction is the fiscally responsible thing to do as seen in most of our neighboring communities, except here in Peanut Town.

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Strong statements by city staff have already been made in support of more spending, without any real discussion in favor of a tax rate reduction.

As such, this situation exhibits the exact reason that the informed observer has noted that things are truly out of control, as it attaches to the conduct of our local government.

With yet another year of double digit tax increases and skyrocketing property assessments, it seems as though there is no limit to the efforts some will go to in fabricating reasons for more spending and taxes.

How can anyone seriously doubt that many working families are being placed in extremis, by such significant tax increases year after year, yet…?

City hall takes great effort to describe the situation as only costing the average homeowners a few hundred dollars more each year.

Yet they neglect to express that this tax has been compounded, year after year for the last several years and it is costing the average family over one thousand dollars in additional taxes now due to the compounding of such increases due to assessment growth.

As such, the real effect over the last three years has been to reduce the real disposable income of the average Suffolk family, without a similar offset in pay.

This leadership failure is compounded by the recent proposal by city hall to take over road maintenance, supposedly to provide better services.

However, it is really more about looking for additional money to feed the spending frenzy of local government defined by our city manager, than it is about increasing service.

With such failed thinking serving as the driving force behind such proposals, it is clearly evident why there is so much citizen discomfort and mistrust of these expressed plans. With such bankrupt policies blinded by a myopic focus on more money to spend, are we getting good local government under the present administration?

Most reasonable people would have to admit that under such strains, we are clearly not getting good local government.

The specific issues of: spending and taxes, compounded by an utter lack of any empathy concerning the real estate tax burden suffered by significant assessment growth exhibits a profound lack of public empathy, insight, and leadership.

The unprecedented level of such tax increases accruing across the board, including almost $9 million provided just by the recent 16 percent assessment increases, has city hall flush with cash.

The true &uot;take&uot; by city hall for all taxes, is up significantly and it is hurting our citizens’ quality of life.

The real-estate tax is perhaps the most systemic manifestation of our pain, but not the only item.

With the flow of our funds to the government rising to all time highs, it’s still not enough for our city manager and his agenda.

He and some on council would have you believe that giving any tax break will cause the sky to crash down on us.

With taxes increasing at over four times the rate of inflation, which drives our pay raises, exhibits why such polices are both absurd and unfair.

The real effect occurring downtown is an effort to rationalize political greed, as a good budget plan for our community.

The real issue that is just starting to become heard from the citizens, is a genuine concern about the direction that taxes and especially spending are taking in our community.

When the city manager can step forward and recommend spending millions off budget to fluff-up political payola for a host of improper projects downtown; there is little doubt that taxes are too high. Just this last year more than $7 million in off budget spending was recommended and assigned by the city administration.

If the same percentage is applied to this year’s budget, it is clear that there will most likely be at least $10 million in such improper spending.

What this situation really shows, is that the electorate must hold council fully accountable for their actions and that of the city manager.

Further, to expect any significant real estate tax reduction this year that might impede the projected tax flows to city hall, the citizens must become engaged in the process. As such, it is well past time that our endless run on the real estate tax treadmill must be slowed down, with a small and reasonable tax reduction.

As for council’s bit part in this sad saga, anyone that does not support a real estate tax reduction should and must be dealt with at the polls.

Such action by the electorate would be both pragmatic and appropriate to bring real leadership to bear in this sorry situation.

Roger Leonard is a Suffolk businessman and regular News-Herald columnist. He can be reached at