Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Property Tax Question and Why We Can't Get An Answer

There has been much confusion in city hall about property taxes.  Since the Mayor introduced the budget back in March, the unanswered question has been:  how does this affect my property taxes?  Then the Council approved a budget in June with a reduced tax levy.  Thus we knew the amount of the total city tax levy for 2013 (it is $50,228,583).  Our budget consultant, David Kochel, calculated the tax rate.   Knowing these numbers is all well and good.  The total tax levy still has to be spread across all property owners based on the tax rate and the assessed property values.  We asked our City Administrator the unanswered question: in layman's terms, how does this affect my property taxes? That means the dollar amount and understanding if it went up and how much.  City hall has been unable to get an answer to City Council.  I guess they think residents can wait to see their tax bills.  But only the final bill, not the quarterly ones, have the break-out for city, school and county taxes and there is no comparison to the previous years bill or rate.

When I served on the Plainfield School Board, this was an easy question to answer. Our Business Administrator knew the school tax levy and the tax rate and applied the rate to the "typical home".  That was a home assessed at something near the average assessed home value in Plainfield.  The answer was given as soon as the school budget was proposed for the election ballot. It went something like this:  "a home assessed at $100,000 will pay xxx in annual property taxes, up from xxx in the previous year." 

That is what people want to know.  The reason we can't get our senior finance people to tell people what they need to know is not a surprise. It's been a revolving door for City Administrators and long term vacancies for the CFO and other key administrator positions.  If it were only a problem for one position or a few positions for a short period of time,  it would be considered  routine.  Unfortunately, this has been a problem since Mayor Robinson-Briggs took office.

Sorry Mayor Sharon apologists.  This is not a shared Mayor-Council problem.  It was going on even in the Mayors first two years of office, when she got virtually complete cooperation from the Council (including yours truly). Her first city administrator left under of cloud of allegations and some other Director level appointments did not pan out either.

The problem started before her term began, when she convened a transition team.  I wish I could recall who they were so I could ask them why? Why? Why did you wipe the slate so clean that there was no continuity or memory of good initiatives from the previous administration?  Behind the scenes, people (including me) offered to facilitate discussions with senior decision makers who were removed and replaced.  Not to plead for their jobs, just to help the transition to the new administration.  These offers were met by a stone wall.  

Lack of communication has been a hallmark of Mayor Robinson-Briggs administration. But it would be a good step to answer the property tax question for the sake of residents.  Yes we only have a part time CFO, Glenn Cullen, whose time is so limited that I have only seen him once.  But he could get us the answer easily. I will try to answer this myself.  I am very busy at work and I don't promise a quick answer but it would be embarrassing if the Mayors people don't beat me to the punch.

1 comment:

Bernice said...

You make a good point. As a reporter, I was supposed to bring back just such budget information. I think my editors would be flabbergasted if I told them a municipality was unable to provide basic budget and tax facts.