Sunday, April 5, 2015

Stand by for Heavy Incoming: the Revaluation Deceit


Let’s set the stage with some easy questions:

1) Off the top of your head, do you know what your home and/or other real estate in town is assessed at?  (This would be figure A.)

2) Off the top of your head, do you know what Brunswick’s property tax mil-rate is?  (This would be figure B.)

3) Off the top of your head, do you know what you pay to Brunswick in property taxes?  (Call this figure C.)

Our guess is that most readers answered “no” to questions 1 and 2, but did know the answer to question 3.  Which would confirm our main premise in this post.

In our little exercise, A times B equals C, where C is the amount you have to pay in property taxes.  It’s where rubber meets the road…where you have to ‘write the check’ and debit your checkbook accordingly.  C hurts; A and B in and of themselves are simply “numbers.”

If you pay attention to your personal finances, C is the only number that matters.  A is a number you would use, if you wish, to determine whether the assessor’s office is treating you fairly, whatever that means, compared to other property owners.  Few of us, if any, know someone who has ever barked up that tree and come away better off for the effort.

B is simply a multiplier calculated anew by the town each and every year, and while it has purpose, you likely don’t care much about it in the absolute, especially as a figure of merit compared to other towns.  It is the key to our predatory, adjustable rate property taxes to borrow a term.

C is the bottom line; it’s a draw down on your financial resources, an amount compelled from you by force of law and threat of eviction.  It’s dollars you can’t use for anything else.

Which brings us to the meat of our story.


LT Dover, Benjamin, shown above, has just read this article in The Forecaster:

You may recall that we casually refer to him as LT Ben Dover, where LT stands for Local Taxpayer.  Ben has in all likelihood just made the second payment on his property taxes for the current fiscal year, and was thrilled and delighted to see the article just now.  Especially since it features a somewhat evasive title, and then our subject du jour, expounded on by the local official hinted at in our opening graphic.

"There's all the reasons in the world to do this as one of our top priorities," Councilor-at-Large John Richardson said. He stressed that a lot has changed in the past 15 years: coastal and rural property taxes have increased, and in-town and commercial property tax has gone down.

Richardson said revaluation would bring Brunswick's tax rate, which currently stands at $27.40 per $1,000 of assessed value, down to about $19, which is closer to Topsham's. He said that outside of Maine, the perception is that places with high mil rates are "places to avoid."

Council Chairwoman Sarah Brayman echoed Richardson's point that the project is necessary. She called it an issue of "equity between taxpayers."

"Some folks are paying more than their fair share of taxes," Brayman said, "and some folks are paying less."

You have two reasons to be afraid, be very afraid.  First, anything supported by John “Johnny Protocols” Richardson is, by definition, intended to extract more dollars from each and everyone of us.  It’s in his nature.

Two, anytime you have a situation where your future depends on an equation involving two numbers, and elected officials have control of both numbers, more than half of the public will be lost in the dust trying to understand what just happened.  The rest of us will know we’re getting screwed, but have no idea on how to stop it from happening.

In so many words, get ready for a shakedown.  Also known as revaluation, which lends itself nicely to political babble and double-speak such as ‘updating our valuations to reflect current market conditions,’ and ‘lowering our mil-rate to be competitive with surrounding communities.’

The process should be revenue neutral, but we defy you to come up with one example where it has ever been so.  Following revaluation, the mil-rate should be adjusted to yield precisely the same tax revenue as the old valuation and old mil-rate would have generated.  But we defy our local officials, or readers, for that matter, to show us one case where that has ever been true.

No, instead, the modus operandi is to conduct a squeeze-play under the guise of soothing, politically correct talk of updated figures, more competitive tax rates, greater compliance with state law, and such as that.  Which is exactly what we expect will happen in our case.  Especially since the School Department has already shown their “10% budget increase” opening card.

Here’s an example of how this works.  Let’s say you own a house whose real value is $100,000, but it’s assessed at $70,000.  At today’s tax rate of $27.46, your tax bill is $1,922.

Your house will be revalued at $100,000, it’s ‘fair market value.’  How can you possibly object to that?  Meanwhile, the town ‘mil-rate’ will be lowered to $22.00, so officials will brag about how they lowered the tax rate by 20%, making us ‘more competitive with nearby towns.’

Your tax bill will now be $2,200 with the new lower tax rate.  That’s an increase of 14% in your tax bill, even though the mil-rate was lowered by 20%.  Town tax revenue, currently at $36,6 Million, will increase by $5.2 million to $41.8 million, compliments of the new “lower, more competitive tax rate.”  Even better, if your house has a ‘market’ value of $200,000, but is currently assessed at $140,000, your taxes would go from $3,844 to $4,400.  So in the first case, you’re paying $278 more a year; in the second case, you’ll pay $556 more per year.

A nearly 15% tax revenue windfall, painlessly delivered.  All in the name of doing good by doing right.  The last time this happened, the mil-rate declined by approx. 13%, and tax revenue increased by 15% in the first two years.

                                  Image result for john richardson maine

Don’t you feel better?  If it’s any consolation, we’re sure we can get at least one councilor involved to demonstrate how he “feels our pain.”  Given his influence on the panel, he should be able to convince others to feel badly as well.  They’ll bite their lips and vote yea anyway.

Aren’t we lucky to have so many that can confront “tough choices” and “tough decisions” so honorably?  The reality is that nothing will ever change, because folks like Johnny worry that places with ‘high mil rates’ are places to avoid, rather than places with high tax bills.  That’s how intelligent they think we all are.

Which gives you great insights into how elected officials think, and if true, ought to make you worry about the common sense of the general public.

Remember to do those limbering up exercises now, dearie.

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