Monday, September 21, 2015

Immutable Laws: dropping the other shoe….


We told you yesterday we’d be following up on our “Immutable Laws” post soon.  We lied; we’re not going to do that.


Just kidding!  As the old saying goes, ‘if you can’t take a joke….’  Gray and murky as it was outside when we began this post, we thought maybe you could use a chuckle.  Or a reason to chuck, as the case may be.

Our inspiration for this commentary can be found in the agenda for the Brunswick Town Council Meeting this coming Monday, September 21st.

LT Dover, Benjamin Alert


The first item is this:


Turns out we’d forgotten about a prior post on this very issue going back to January of last year; it popped up when we went in search of Ben Dover’s avatar.  Here is where you can find it:

It begins with these inspired words:

It’s been some time since we’ve heard from LT Dover, Benjamin, a young member of our staff who we casually refer to as LT Ben Dover.                          

Which, now that we get into the subject, is taking us down a rat-hole, so you’ll have to bare with us.  Turns out we have some personal experience, and detailed data, on ‘reappraisal and revaluation.’ 


And we still have occasional nightmares in which a well known former town councilor pats herself and her colleagues on the back for “lowering the town’s tax-rate.”

The data that matters here is shown in the ‘snip’ below, taken from a spread sheet of municipal budget records we maintain.  It details the last time we had a ‘reappraisal and revaluation.’  Let us guide you through it.


To begin with, the fourth column is the fiscal year involved.  The first column is the property tax revenue, and the column next to it is the % increase compared to the prior year.  Ignore the 3rd column, and the 5th, through 10th columns as well; they have only to do with our analysis for statistical purposes beyond our interest today.

The next to last column is the tax rate set for that fiscal year. and the last column is the change in rate compared to the prior year.


As you can see, in FY 00/01, the tax rate declined by 11.3%, allowing all concerned to jump up and down jubilantly because of ‘the huge decrease in the mil-rate’ in Brunswick.  None-the-less, property tax revenue that year increased by 4.9%, or nearly $1 million.  Funny how that works; we’ll get to that in a moment.

In the next year, the tax rate went up by 9%, and tax revenue increased by 9.2%, or nearly $2 million.  Property tax revenue increases by app. $1 million per year in the next few years.

As a side note, for the truly curious, the oldest data we have is for FY 87/88, when property tax revenue was in the $10 million range.  We don’t have actual tax rate figures back that far, but it was probably in the $12 to $13 dollar range (per thousand.)  Today, that rate stands at $28.36.

For the FY 15/16 tax year, the property tax revenue is nearly $39 million.  So if you lived in your house in the late 80’s, your new property tax bill is most likely nearly four times what it was then.  Oh well; government spending happens!  Get over it.

Which calls for a brief homily on the insidious nature of the municipal property tax.  Let’s summarize it as follows:

1)  The property tax is predatory because it is adjustable rate.  The mil-rate is set anew each year by municipal authorities in order to meet their obligation to balance budget accounts.

2)  “Living within their means” is simply not part of the process.  No one in authority asks how much revenue came in last year and then figures out how to limit spending to that amount this year.  In fact, the reverse happens; they decide how much they want to spend this year, and then adjust the mil-rate to yield that amount, irrespective of what either figure was in the prior year.

3)  The property tax system is likely understood by no more than a small minority (10% tops?) of those who pay the bills.  Valuation, mil-rate, equalization, assessment ratio, etc, are all esoteric terms that obscure the harsh realities.  Add to this that many pay it indirectly through their rent, and that many homeowners have it impounded as part of their mortgage payments, and you have a situation ripe for obfuscation and budgetary abuse.  As we’ve said many times before, you can govern or you can spend, and the latter view prevails overwhelmingly.

4)  The system provides all concerned with plausible deniability.  The council says all they do is approve the budget, not the tax rate.  The assessor says all they do is ensure compliance with state law regarding valuation ratios.  The finance department says it’s their job to set the tax rate to yield the required revenue from the established valuation.  See?  No single person or entity is responsible for the unending increases in our property tax bills, or even worse, accountable!

Regardless of all the mumbo-jumbo from Johnny Protocols and his colleagues on the council both present and past, the only thing that matters (other than compliance with state law) is your personal property tax bill and its year to year change.  That’s where the “truth talks and the rhetoric walks,” to borrow a common phrase.

We can tell you this.  Ours has reliably increased year over year, no matter what else is going on.  Never ever have we been told that we were paying ‘more than our fair share’ while others were paying ‘less of their fair share.’  All the feel good rhetoric of rationalization emanating from the council table is so much poppycock and codswallop.

Everything they do, when you come right down to it, has only to do with spending more and taxing more.  We defy anyone to prove otherwise. 

And trust us, this round of ‘we’re just doing what we’re required to do’ has the only constant, real purpose, and nothing else: to yield more revenue to spend while making it difficult to understand how that could have happened.  Every act of government has that as its primary objective.

You can call that a cynical view.  But cynicism is simply judgment born of experience.  If the council wants to disabuse us, and you, of this notion, their approval of a revaluation project will require that it be property tax revenue neutral in the first year of the new values, and that revenue increase by no more than say…..2%….in each of the five years that follow.

Which calls to mind the image of snowballs in hell.  None-the-less, when you go to the council meeting tomorrow night, get up and challenge them to do what we suggest in order to show a good faith commitment to protecting our interests.  Let us know how that works out for you.

To add to the humor of this situation, wel cite this report from The Ostrich in their September 10th front page article:

The town last had a revaluation in 2000.  According to assessor Cathy Jamison, the town’s assessment ration is at 70% for the 2015 tax year and many properties are selling at 60 percent of fair market value or lower.  She noted the ratios show there is a lot of inequity among different types of properties.

Read that underlined passage carefully; there are two choices here.  First, that the assessor has no idea of what she actually said, or second, that the reporter blew it and her editor has no clue on tax and market value realities.  Likely, both are true.  And then this follows:

“An equalization project is the reappraisal of all real estate to bring about uniformity in property valuations,” Jamison wrote.  “The purpose is to value all properties by the same standard so that each property owner is paying only their fair share of the cost of essential community services.

Anytime a government official talks about “fair share,” you should be afraid, very afraid.  When they add “essential community services” on top of that, head for safe refuge.

Looking at our personal property tax history, we’re more than confident that we’re paying not ONLY our “fair share,” but far more.  And don’t even get us started on “essential community services.”  Both subjects could merit a blog of their own, given their psycho-babble, subjective character.


It seems fitting and appropriate to end this part of our discussion with a quote on the subject from Johnny Protocols, the presumptive next state senator for Brunswick, as he climbs his way back to the Governor’s office.  That right there says a lot about how “we” govern ourselves, as if we needed any more to improve our outlook.

“There’s all the reasons in the world to do this as one of our top priorities,” John  Richardson, councilor at large, 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.

“In town property tax has gone down?”  What exactly is Johnny smoking, or drinking, or both?

The second item is this:



So that ‘new High School’ of ours, now 20 years old, is starting to crumble.  Better start the planning for a new one now!  And raising the money!  Somebody call Lyndon “Kaching Kaching” Keck at PDT, and have him start working up a plan!


From the same Ostrich column on September 10:

Paul Caron, the facilities director for Brunswick School Department, said the low bid process, in his opinion, isn’t as effective as finding a reputable contractor to design a system that will work for the department.

Ponder those words; who decides, and by what objective rules and procedure, who is a ‘reputable contractor,’ and what will ‘work for the department?’  The same guy that let the roof on Jordon Acres fail, and the floors and toilets in Coffin and BHS fall into terrible dis-repair?  You want us to trust HIM?  AYFKM?

Then, let’s put some scale to this.  Let’s say you could do a first class, bang up job replacing and upgrading the ‘boiler and domestic hot water system’ in your house for $10,000.  Sounds like a pretty comfortable figure, don’t you think?

That means the boiler and domestic hot water system in 57 houses could be done for the amount they want to spend to do the same at BHS.  We’d like to believe that doing all the work in one location would lead to economies of scale at BHS, but then, we can be so unrealistic.

57 houses!  How much of Meadowbrook would that encompass?  Yeah, we know, we’re just another anti-tax, anti-government extremist.

That aside, we believe at the very least, a detailed bid package and contractor response should be made available for public review before proceeding on this initiative.  There are any number of residents here in town that can quickly and astutely review and assess such a proposal.

We can’t wait to hear what they might say.  Sure; $575,000 is only $30 or so per town resident, so why make such a big deal?


Because sooner or later, and every now and then, the right thing should be done.

That’s why. 

No matter how many feathers it ruffles, and on whom.  It’s time for you to get mad as hell, and let your betters know it.

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