Thursday, April 26, 2012

Let’s have some fun: let’s play the numbers!

Here are some numbers for you:

16.15; 11.50; 23.68; 15.20; 9.95; 17.90; 14.80; xxxx; 13.60; 5.80.

Do they mean anything to you?  Probably not, because such things bore the average observer of the passing scene.   Accordingly, we’ll fill you in; these are municipal property tax rates.  They are expressed as dollars per thousand of assessed value (the ‘mil rate.’)

$16.15 – Topsham

$11.50 – Bowdoin

$23.68 – Brunswick

$15.20 – Freeport

$9.95 – West Bath

$17.90 – Bath

XXXX – Durham (we requested their exact rate, but have not heard back from their municipal staff)

$14.80 – Bowdoinham

$13.60 – Richmond

$5.80 – Harpswell

That’s a decent sample of property tax rates in Brunswick and surrounding communities for the current fiscal year.

You may wonder why the towns that surround us have lower tax rates.  One theory might be that they have really crappy school systems, especially compared to the excellent school system in Brunswick, because we ‘imagine and invest’ more in our schools than they do.  We can only wonder how the residents of the other towns feel about their schools, and how much they value them.  Apparently, by standards of the town of Brunswick, not very much; not much at all.

Fair warning: when you run into residents of these other towns, we suggest you don’t tell them that they don’t care about the children, and that they are sending their kids to substandard schools.  Doing so would not be relationship enhancing.

There’s another possible explanation, and that is one advanced by our friends over at Brunswick Community Divided; you can read about it here.  They suggest that better schools mean higher real estate values, which all other things being equal, would result in a lower tax rate.  Higher home prices, but folks would gladly pay them.

If you and a friend own equivalent homes, you in Brunswick, and your friend in a nearby town, and the property values are significantly higher in your friend’s town than here in Brunswick, then our property tax rate would have to be higher than your friend’s to generate the same revenue.

Gee, if excellent schools mean higher property values, and we have truly excellent schools, shouldn’t we have lower tax rates?  If so, why are we already paying amongst the highest rates in the area?

This finds us on the horns of a dilemma.  We’ve been told over and over that Brunswick schools are widely known for their excellence, and that this drives people to move here. Which, according to the theory on the table, should elevate our property values and lower our tax rate. (Even if in the last year, we’ve lost 4% of our students, which would suggest more families are moving out than moving in.) 

But if nearby towns have lower tax rates, shouldn’t we assume that their property values must be higher, which suggests that their schools must be superior, if you believe the school excellence-property value hypothesis?  Or, on the other hand, that our schools are not nearly as excellent as everyone claims, and hence we have lower property values and higher tax rates?

Quite a conundrum it would seem.  And we confess to not having an answer, except to say that those over at BCD and their fellow higher tax advocates are trying everything under the sun to rationalize spending even more.  If one explanation won’t work, let’s try another.  Still not good?  OK, they’ll come up with another theory in a moment or two.

Or perhaps we are the exception: we have excellent schools, but crummy property values, and hence higher tax rates.

The real question is just how much you have to spend for excellence, and more importantly, how much more you have to spend to maintain it.  And why spending equates to excellence, rather than expectations, policies, performance metrics, and standards.

We wonder just how much higher the BCD gang, the POMWTMI’s, think our taxes have to be raised to prove that we care more than others?

While we have your attention, we’d like to leave you with some other information.

You can find the property tax rates for every town in Maine, as of 2010, here.  At least in some folks minds, this should make it easy for you to tell which towns have the best schools.  Or maybe not.

Here are a few other interesting references.  Keep in mind that the average residential property tax bill in Brunswick is about $3260.

The median property tax in Maine is $1,936.00 per year for a home worth the median value of $177,500.00. Maine counties collect an average of 1.09% of a property's estimated fair market value as property tax.

The median property tax in Cumberland County, Maine is $2,859 per year for a home worth the median value of $244,900. Cumberland County collects, on average, 1.17% of a property's estimated fair market value as property tax.

Cumberland County has one of the highest median property tax rates in the United States, and is ranked 150th of the 3145 counties in order of average property taxes.

The average yearly property tax paid by Cumberland County residents amounts to about 4.13% of their yearly income. Cumberland County is ranked 164th of the 3145 counties for property taxes as a percentage of median income.

Let’s finish with one more high note.  Guess how much property is exempt from taxation by Brunswick?

According to figures we have before us, total taxable value in town is $1.246 billion.  Another $714 million in property valuation is exempt from taxes. of which $641 million is simply exempt property.  You’ve got your Churches, your hospitals, and your government buildings, and probably some others we are not aware of.  We’re going to swag that at $140 million or so total to make things easy.

Which leaves another $500 million in tax exempt property.  And we can only think of one thing that could be.  We’re not going to tell you what we think it is; we’ll just leave you with this hint: Professors Perkinson and Klingle.

And wonder why they haven’t suggested what a ‘new revenue source’ for Brunswick School funding might be.  Right there in the very centroid of education excellence.

That ‘centroid’ charges students something between fifty and sixty thousand dollars a year. Is it any wonder these tenured exemplars of academic freedom think everyone should pay lots more for school excellence?

Have you no shame people?  Have you no self-respect?

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