Make assessments revenue neutral

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 29, 2005

We have heard from our City Administration that they just don’t have enough of our money to spend yet, to give any significant reduction on the skyrocketing real estate taxes.

As we heard from many on council last week that a two-cent reduction in the tax rate is somehow a great sacrifice, especially when they prepare to take millions more from the pockets of the citizens, this fairytale directly shows how fairness is denied in Suffolk.

This shrill issue is revealing who is who on council and points to the lack of substance in many of the personalities that hold the seats of power. When the city manager can reach into the collective pocket of the community to buy speculative properties, spend millions on venues to benefit a narrow sliver of the community, and fund projects in only certain areas of the city, it is obvious more could be done to cut taxes if anyone in city hall chose to.

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The real issue here is to do nothing, but play politics with the issues so the greed of some can be cultivated for select projects and agendas at great cost to others.

With such an instructive situation at hand at city hall, it has become exceedingly clear that now is the time to turn to another venue to request equity in this sad saga. With a contrived mechanism to take advantage of the unnatural real estate markets that have driven up the cost of homes and the attached taxes, we are clearly not going to get help from our local government. They have instead chosen to take advantage of us.

As such, it has become apparent that it is time to pursue change in the law or legal mechanism that allows local government to benefit so greatly from the present conundrum. As many other communities have done when their local governments failed them, we need to petition the commonwealth for relief.

This relief should and must take the form of limits upon local government’s ability to take so much from us due to exploding assessments.

The rate of local government spending from property taxes has never been as high as it is now and each year we do nothing it is getting worse. We must cap the rate of assessments to make them revenue neutral and extend the period of such assessments to three or four years time to tame them somewhat.

As assessments have driven up the values of our homes and farms, the taxes that are linked to them reaped a bonanza of new money for local government. This has lead to an easy and quick fix for bigger and bigger spending plans under the guise of building a better community.

As the pain of this income shift has been blindly pursued under the present farce that goes by the name of local governance, the equity of tax accountability has failed.

This failure takes the form of an utter lack of accountability for those who wish to raise taxes and increase spending.

As the silent tax increase of rampant assessment growth continues unabated, our local city administration would like us to believe that a double-digit increase in spending is in our best interests.

As with all such thinking, the real issue of this is who is paying and who is benefiting from such a trap.

Those who benefit from such strategies do not want change and those who pay are only demanding a small measure of balance in the form of a slight reduction in their burden.

Without any way to correct the situation locally, it is time to seek help from outside local government.

If the city administration wanted to cut the budget in support of a realistic reduction of the increasing tax burden we carry, they could.

Some of the spending not touched in the city manager’s recommended budget cuts include: reductions in contingency slush funds, less travel and training funds, fewer computers and other equipment, a reduction in assistants to assistants, fewer investments in golf courses, marinas, and other speculative projects, and most importantly less litigation and politically driven posturing.

As we watch the coming meetings of council and hear the many reasons that the city administration must spend every cent they can squeeze from the citizens, ask yourself if you are better off with such failed local leaders or if it is time for a change.

While it is apparent that there are many good people involved in this process, many of them are just not up to the job or comprehend their obligations to equity, fairness and just doing the right thing.

It is past time that you get involved and speak-up at the next council meeting in June.

Also as the coming months pass, it is important that you keep these actions and statements in mind as four of these people run for reelection.

It is appropriate to hold them accountable for the decisions they make now and to demand a full accounting next spring.

It is also important to become involved in the present process and express your discontent with the present situation.

The spenders are counting on your continued silence and blind acquiescence to writing checks in June and November as you are told.

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