Re: Petty proposes raising (your) property taxes

“… maybe we should raise property taxes …”

a 24-hour news cycle later

Yep. I talked about taxes for 10 minutes or so at the last City Council meeting. Naturally, since I mentioned taxes, (some) local media spazzed out. Even though no one had proposed raising taxes, they began to prepare their spin machine, ready for the controversial news cycle that could sell their words for the next two weeks.

Naturally, that meant falsely reporting that a proposal to raise taxes had been made. Let the controversy begin!

To which I answer: “Ok. Wasn’t that the point anyway? Sheesh. What is so hard about reporting facts?”

Seriously though, it’s natural to have a bit of a freak out about raising taxes. To be honest, I feel like I’m going out on a limb even saying that raising taxes should be an option on the table.

The truth is that at the meeting, no one proposed raising the millage. What happened was I asked the rest of the Council and the audience to brainstorm ideas for the next two weeks. My question: “Is there anything we can invest in that makes sense now?”

Where I’m really coming from

I have to give at least some credit to the papers. A lot of people have been pushed to a freakout by economic conditions, and (some) local media are only riding the wave. After their headline, one resident emailed me and the rest of the Council, urging us to vote against ANY tax increase and asking me to explain myself.

This is a portion of my response to them.

In the meantime, if you can think of anything that the City should invest in, please tell us. Personally, I’m looking for low-cost, one-time payments that will bring an *economic* boost. I’m looking for things that we can expect to turn 2011 into a solid rebound, because I expect 2010 to be mostly flat. I’m looking for strategic “chess move” investments that will set 2011 to propel Fayetteville into the 21st century.

And I mean that in all seriousness. I don’t want to let a year go by where we miss a smart investment. There is a wishlist a mile long at City Hall, and what constitutes a “smart” investment is affected by the economic conditions. Fayetteville is fortunate, because we can continue to make some of those investments without using property taxes; we have lots of ways to invest.

No one has proposed raising property taxes yet. All I want to do is talk about it to make an informed decision. That’s what I was elected to do.

I just don’t want to take our options off of the table before we’ve even had a conversation about our potential investments. The next two weeks are crunch time, so if you have any ideas for good investments at all, let’s hear them. Then we can all decide if any are so good that they merit a property tax increase, or any 2010 spending at all.

There are a lot of potential investments, and we need to determine if any of them, even one, would be worth using property taxes for.

One legitimate reason for keeping taxes the same

In any given freakout about taxes, there are a lot of reasons presented for keeping taxes where they are already at. In Fayetteville, there are four main points to this discussion:

  • The school district needs to raise taxes and they can’t if the City raises taxes. This just isn’t true, because of the timing involved. I’m only interested in a tax proposal that would raise taxes for one year. The District needs to raise taxes for a decade or more, and they are unlikely to ask for the tax increase until after any the City had passed was already repealed. It’s going to take them around a year to revisit their decisions and put forward a more cohesive plan for the public to vote on. In other words, any tax increase the City made would be gone by the time the District was ready to ask for a tax increase again.
  • We need all options available to us if the economy gets even worse. This is true, but again, not relevant because it’s a matter of timing. We can only adjust property taxes once per year: in October. If we don’t raise them now, and the economy gets worse, we can’t do anything with taxes until next October. If we do raise them now, and the economy gets worse, we still can’t do anything until next October. And if we raise them and repeal them after one year, then next October we have all options available to us again to respond to an economy that is even worse off than it is now.
  • That money should go to public safety, police and fire, first. I agree in principle, but the truth is our local economy isn’t strong enough to sustain the services we already offer. We can barely pay for police and fire, not to mention parks and streets and trails. We need to improve the way our local economy works before we restore spending to police, fire, and other programs. That means we need to find out if there are any strategic investments that would improve our economy, to make affording the other things easier in the future.
  • It’s just not the right time to raise taxes, for anything. This is the only argument I see that might have some merit to it. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

It’s time for a truthful discussion

What I know is that the Council is only eight people, and the number of desks in City Hall working on this is probably less than 50. It’s hard for us to find diamonds in haystacks this big. Will you help us look for it? Or are we just going to assume that diamond doesn’t exist?

Matthew Petty

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