My enthusiasm for paying taxes is as great as the next fellow’s. Which is to say, very little.
Nobody likes paying taxes. If you’re a public official, you probably don’t like imposing them, either. That’s nothing new. Taxes have never been popular—anywhere. The disconnect between taxes and public input on the matter was at the heart of America’s Declaration of Independence more than 200 years ago.
At the same time, nobody loves paying insurance premiums, making mortgage payments or paying their cable bills, either. Some of those costs can be whittled down by cutting back on such things as premium channels or increasing insurance deductibles or refinancing home loans. It makes good sense to do all those things.
After those steps have been taken, what’s left is the price of living the way we individually and collectively choose to live. It’s the bill we have to pay.
Nevertheless, there are lots of people and countries accustomed to having it both ways—living comfortably, but without having to pay the cost. How do they do it?
Eventually, though, they dig themselves into a debt hole they simply can’t climb out of. That’s what’s been happening in many parts of Europe as well as with a lot of individuals and local governments here in the US.
Cranberry’s Board of Supervisors takes a more traditional view. The supervisors handle the township’s bills the old-fashioned way—by paying them.
That’s one of the reasons . But the township is paying those bills with dollars that have declined in value through inflation, while its tax base—especially with real estate values frozen by Butler County at 1969 levels—remains stuck in the distant past.
The financial details are hard to intuitively grasp because the units of measure for real estate taxes in Butler County—mills levied on a certain fraction of a property’s value assessment in 1969 dollars—is sort of like figuring out how to compare your fuel mileage when you’re in Europe, driving in kilometers, buying gas by the liter and paying in euros.
After all, what’s a mill? What’s a 1969 value? What fraction of that value is taxed? On top of that, the formula differs from one county to the next, so comparisons between counties are essentially meaningless.
Even so, adjustments to tax rates need to be made from time to time in order to cover expenses. The last time Cranberry’s board tweaked them was eight years ago. Now it looks like the will require another tweak.
Last week, Cranberry’s Board of Supervisors gave its requal to about $64 a year for a home with a current value of $200,000.
It’s a modest increase, but it makes a significant difference in the township’s ability to sustain its current level of service and retain its exceptional credit rating. It’s a practical response to a practical problem.
Practical concerns aren’t the whole story, though. There’s a movement in many parts of the country to characterize public spending as a moral crisis.
These people portray government as a sinister force, government programs as self-serving, government workers as parasitic and government taxes as a form of evil. Their alternative: cut programs, eliminate staff, sell off assets and let vulnerable people fend for themselves.
It’s an ideology rooted in wariness of government, fueled by distrust of elected officials and reinforced by disappointment over the inability of some state or federal representatives to put the public interest above their own narrow political interests.
It’s precisely the reason that Cranberry has worked so hard to be efficient, open, fair and transparent in conducting its affairs.
The result has been Cranberry’s emergence as an exceptional community in extraordinarily difficult times. This year, the township bootstrapped Butler County into the . Getting there involved making some hard choices—coughing up bucks instead of passing the buck. The outcome has been a vibrant and thriving community—one increasingly seen as a model for municipal governments everywhere to emulate.
It’s simply the price of success.