Thursday, 17 October 2013 00:00
As we sleep, midnight flying squads from political campaigns swoop down on closed gas stations, unrented buildings and unguarded roadside fencing and cover the area with their ugly, unregulated, sometimes dangerous signage. If you were a small business owner and covered the turnpike with 4-foot-long “Eat at Joe’s” signs, there would be code enforcement officers covering your shop like ants on a dropped cheese puff. But our local political organizations exempt themselves from rules of courtesy, neighborliness and municipal regulation. And reality.
At a local corner adorned with 24 signs, one stands out, larger than all the others. I have now seen the same sign in zip code after zip code. It promotes the candidacy of County Executive Ed Mangano by proclaiming, “He Cut Taxes!!”
Whether you have decided to support him or to vote against him, or whichever cable news-style entertainment network you choose to watch, or whatever your party enrollment might be don’t really figure into this particular discussion. Those things are none of my business. But “He Cut Taxes!!” is everyone’s business.
It is left to the citizens of this county, and not its decayed partisan political establishment, to decide if elections are going to have real relevance to our daily lives and to our future course as a community. Clocks are ticking.
If you define “taxes” in the narrowest possible way, and if you look at things with your head tilted while squinting really hard, you may come to the conclusion that since County Executive Mangano took office, the rates per dollar of the primary taxes that fund the bulk of the county government have not increased. For good or for bad, we will be living with that choice for years.
Many things might be coincidences, but in life I have found that few really are. “He Cut Taxes!!” became a new mantra of the Mangano campaign just before tax bills arrived. Those tax bills reflect The Mangano Tax.
The current county executive didn’t invent the problems with the property tax assessment system on which our governments, especially school districts, are far too dependent. However, he’s made them worse, and because we’ve had unprecedented flux and downward pressure in real estate values, this is going to be like a fiscal neutron bomb in ultra-slow motion, cascading through fragile local government finances and through your tax bills. It can’t fix itself or stop on its own. The control rods are out of the core.
For he is the Anti-County Executive, and his number shall be six point eight, and eleven point seven overall.
Those are this year’s average percentage increases in the school property tax bill and in the overall tax bill for residential homeowners. These increases are significantly higher, more than double, what many were expecting, because the tax rates announced by Boards of Education and other units relying on the county tax rolls are merely estimates, subject to the final tax assessment totals. When a county executive interferes and artificially freezes most assessed values and has assessment officials hand out reductions in 87 percent of appeals, the tax base is eroded. Final rates must rise to balance budgets, property wealth ratios are skewed and the integrity of the entire system crumbles.
The Mangano Tax is the difference between your district’s good faith estimated tax rate and the actual final rate.
You tell me where a degraded tax base in a time of stagnated wages and revenues is going to lead two, four, six years down the road.
Public officials are not supposed to willfully sabotage an entire system of public finance to gain a billboard slogan. We are not Washington.
He cut taxes? It’s not just a sign. It’s a symptom.
Michael Miller is a freelance writer, designer and strategic consultant who has worked in state and local government. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org