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Michael Miller


By Michael Miller
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The Home Fires

Last week, elements of the 10th Mountain Division returned home to upstate Fort Drum, not far from where Lake Ontario spills into the Saint Lawrence River. Some soldiers in the 10th have been in four, five and even six lengthy tours of combat in Afghanistan and Iraq, which is unprecedented in American military history. With each tour, it becomes harder to power down, and the aches, pains and tensions increase. A 2009 battlefield study found that by their fourth tour, one in four soldiers in Afghanistan showed signs of mental illness or reported marital problems. In a 2008 Pentagon study, one in four deployed soldiers admitted to using narcotics during the previous year.

Some American families are sacrificing and paying a high price for our wars. Most of it is charged to a credit card that will be held by our great-grandchildren, but some families have been paying on an installment plan for the last decade.

Some of these soldiers are returning to communities that have been just holding on. Some may never rebuild from flooding. And now there are the tax caps.

The Town of Hyde Park, home of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, is laying off one-third of the police force and part of the snow removal crew. The Oneida County Executive’s proposed budget ends all subsidies to libraries and most public health clinic services. The Ulster County Executive’s budget privatizes the county’s 280 bed skilled nursing facility, which Ulster has operated since 1931. It primarily provides long-term residential nursing services to the elderly. A personal favorite: Onondaga County legislators voted to eliminate funding for the Sheriff’s Department helicopter. The board’s chairman called it “a luxury” because many of the emergency air transports are performed at accident scenes in neighboring counties.

Welcome home, 10th Mountain Division.

38 miles from Fort Drum, the Town Board of Hammond, with its $87,000 total tax levy, has voted to exceed the new two percent tax cap. 85 miles from Fort Drum, residents in the unincorporated areas of the Town of Massena, where there is a state park named for Robert Moses of Long Island, residents in the unincorporated areas will see their town property tax increase 20.1% next year. On and on.

The tax cap only limits total taxes imposed, but not assessed value or tax rates. Will your taxes go up or down next year? It’s like a Fellini film. Just go with it, and we’ll figure out later.

We haven’t had tax reform or tax fairness or tax equity. We got press releases.

If we replaced a chunk of the property tax with taxes based on income and ability to pay, you may not like the bottom line, you may even think it’s all a waste of your money, but at least you would understand what you owe and why you owe it. To the dime.

No one can point to an elderly widow, worried sick about her cash situation, and adequately explain to her what she did to have her property taxes go up more than those of the surgeon or the broker living two blocks down or in the next zip code.

The fact that everyone is still trying to figure out the details and complexities of the tax cap law screams out how much of a turkey it is. The only thing more complex is Governor Cuomo’s proposal for appointing an independent commission to draw legislative districts, which requires Venn diagrams and a sextant to follow.

We can’t build a wall around this island. The poverty rate in America’s suburbs increased 53 percent between 2000 and 2010. One out of every three Americans living below the poverty line are suburbanites, including millions of children.

Remember children? A new survey found that half of New York’s school districts cancelled or delayed purchases of computers and other educational technology this fall. Two-thirds increased class sizes.

Some of us are told they must sacrifice and pay a high price. Others are assured by our leaders that they deserve to sacrifice less and pay a lower price, despite crisis and war. Unprecedented.

Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: