I am one member of a five person board. The opinions I express on this forum are mine only, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the Escambia County Staff, Administrators, Employees, or anyone else associated with Escambia County Florida. I am interested in establishing this blog as a means of additional transparency to the public, outreach to the community, and information dissemination to all who choose to look. Feedback is welcome, but because public participation is equally encouraged, appropriate language and decorum is mandatory.

Monday, September 7, 2009

We Can Keep The Millage Rate Steady--If We Have the Will

My position on raising the tax rate on Escambia County property owners remains the same—we should not do it at this time.

With historic levels of unemployment, business failures, home foreclosures, personal bankruptcies, and general overall economic malaise in the local area, I just feel strongly that we should do everything in our power to keep the tax rate steady for our struggling local taxpayers. If the value of the tax roll shrinks, then the taxpayers ought to be able to see a corresponding reduction in the tax bill. There should not be a kneejerk disdain at the local level for LOWERING tax burdens on people’s property. Why should we (as a local governmental taxing body) be able to take the same amount of money from local taxpayers as we did last year when many of our taxpayers and businesses have seen their expenses rise and their incomes fall? Why? I don’t think we should.

We ought to lower our portion of the millage calculation (just as we did last year at this time) and hold the rate steady at 7.72 Mills. Constantly blaming Tallahassee for any and everything is becoming a tired refrain, almost to the point of being a red herring. Sure the legislators are making us raise more locally, sure they have cut our capital budgets, sure things are tight with the overall state budget, but—Tallahassee has nothing to do with our historic habit of levying the MAXIMUM local discretionary capital outlay millage. Last year was the first time in nearly 20 years that Escambia County levied less than the full maximum capital outlay millage—and I’m proud that the board led the effort to see that happen. I’m trying to do it again this year, because I feel in my heart it can be done and that as a local taxing body we need to be more accountable to our boss, the taxpayers. (Remember, the local taxpayers who also made us one of only 16 districts statewide out of 67 to have a voter approved ½ cent sales tax levy for school capital projects—remember them??) So let’s see, we’ve levied the maximum amount of local discretionary (READ: OPTIONAL) millage for capital outlay for nearly 20 years, and we’ve been one of only a handful of districts (less than 23% statewide) who have benefitted from a ½ cent sales tax for school capital projects for the last 12 years—but now, when we are in historic recession—we’re told we CANNOT give any back on the capital side by reducing our portion of the funding formula to ease back the discretionary millage by .14 mills?? To quote John Stossel “Give Me a Break!” We can and should do it—but I guess it is just easier to blame Tallahassee and bump up the total millage rate. None of our neighboring counties, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, or Walton, has levied the maximum capital outlay millage in any of the last five years. See this comparison of the levies for a five year period from all school districts.

Here’s what else gets to me—I’m told over and over by some people that “Look, most people are going to be paying no more than they paid last year, so that’s not a tax increase!”

Or this one “It’s only a few bucks more per $100,000 in property value—it’s no big deal and people can afford it!”

I believe statements like these are arrogant and insensitive, and anyone who would say these sorts of things must be totally removed from the reality of the severe recession we are experiencing. Anyone who thinks this way should drive around town and see the large number of businesses that have been shuttered, as well as the many empty commercial buildings and vacant homes for sale. The Economy locally is in terrible shape, unemployment nears 11%, a second wave of foreclosures is coming, credit is still locked up, and many businesses are barely hanging on--- so now is not the time for raising taxes on businesses, individuals, or anyone!—no matter the good intentions. You cannot tax your way out of a sour economy.

I respond to those who believe that taxpayers can shoulder additional tax rate increases by giving this analogy:

Imagine for a moment that we’re all paying $2.50 a gallon for gas, knowing that for every $2.50 per gallon there is about $.30 cents in taxes built -in. Now, let’s say the price for crude oil drops, production and refining costs go down, and in many other areas the price per gallon at the pump drops to $2.30 per gallon. Now imagine that you pull up to your favorite local filling station (thinking that you’re going to be seeing a $2.30 price per gallon sign at the station—meaning you are going to pay LESS) and find that the price has dropped to only $2.49 per gallon. Imagine if you saw a sign on the pump that said.. “Due to local governmental revenue shortfalls, our local tax rate per gallon has risen--but our total price per gallon is now only $2.49 per gallon, so be happy knowing that you are still paying less than before, and have a nice day”
Would you feel okay with this? I don’t think so.

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