Friday, June 22, 2012

Location, Location, Location!

My property here is about 18 acres, with a nice two bedroom house with an attached green house, a 1,200 square foot barn, a super-luxe fancy woodshed, and other cool stuff. It's appraised value is about half the value of the 1,200 square foot condo in Boston that I recently sold, which was half of a two-family house that sat on about 2,000 square feet of land.

But, my property taxes here are about twice what I paid in Boston. As you can see, I don't get a whole lot for it. In Boston, I got free trash pick up every week. Here I have to pay a fee in order to drive my own trash to the dump, which is actually in a neighboring town. In Boston -- specifically Jamaica Plain -- there would likely be a cop within eyesight whenever I walked down Centre St. Here, we do not have a police department at all. Last year, we had exactly one snowstorm that merited plowing the streets. They didn't. Of course everybody has four wheel drive so who cares? And, as you can see, they don't maintain the streets in the summer either. (That's okay, I think it's kind of charming and the bunny rabbits love to hang out in the roadside shrubbery.)

The reason for this is easy to explain. This town has no industry except for farming, and farmland is for all practical purposes untaxed. The only commerce is a general store, a chainsaw shop, an auto repair business, and a campground. Boston has skyscrapers and $400 a night hotels. But we still have to educate the kids. The only place to get the money is from residential property taxes, and that's where it goes.

I'm all for educating kids, and I can afford it, so I'm not complaining. Much. However, the property tax as the basic source of funding for public education makes no sense. It's just not proportionate to people's means. There are folks whose families have lived here for 300 years, who own charming old houses that are worth at least as much as mine, who are lucky to make a modest living. Residential property taxes hurt retired folks, even though they get a break, and can drive people out of their homes if they lose their job or suffer a setback of any kind, even if they don't have a mortgage. And, it means the schools are much better funded where the property is worth more, which ipso facto means the people are richer.

Not that it's gonna happen, but the right way to do this is a progressive, statewide income tax big enough to pay for public education everywhere in the state, that gets distributed back to the local school districts. Dream on.

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