Press Talk: Up, up and away … for tax cash

By Lou Brancaccio, Columbian editor

Published:

 

The year was 2008.

Clark County’s tax roll the money the county collects for all the public agencies that run here was $468 million.

It was also the year when the economy began to go on full downward tilt.

Jobs began to hemorrhage, homeowners began to worry about making good on their overpriced mortgages, businesses began to struggle. Wages mostly in the private sector were frozen or even cut.

When 2009 rolled around things appeared to get even worse.

And the county’s coffers? Up $9 million more. The tax roll was now at $476 million.

As the years ticked off it was more of the same:

• 2009 up $9 million.

• 2010 up $4 million.

• 2011 up $18 million.

• 2012 up $9 million.

The above years about cover the time when we were officially in the Great Recession. Now, we’re being told we’re out.

And we’re “out” of the recession just in time to hit a Clark County milestone. The $9 million extra taxpayers are putting out this year will allow us to hit the $500 million mark. One half a billion dollars.

Break out the party hats and sing along!

“Traveling around, this dirty old town, singing for nickels and dimes, times gettin’ rough, I ain’t got enough, to buy me a bottle of wine.”

Not sure why I think of the old Tom Paxton song, but I do.

Now let’s be fair about these increases. Some of them came about because we voted for them. In other words we have asked to pay more.

Thank you, sir. May I have another?

So why do we keep asking to pay more? Well, many would say we have an obligation to keep government working. Be it school districts or fire stations or libraries.

But I also feel there’s another factor at play. And that’s the idea that we have broken the taxing districts into so many pieces, any individual piece doesn’t “feel” all that large.

Have any idea how many taxing (levy) districts there are in the county? How many do you think you could name?

Ever hear of Cemetery District No. 4? That’s $43,000.

And if you guessed around 50 taxing districts you’d be half-right.

There’s closer to 100. The number you actually see on your tax bill varies, but it’s likely around 30.

To be fair I could make a compelling case as to why it’s important to break our taxes up into little taxing districts. It gives us the taxpayers a better opportunity to see where our money is going.

So rather than just looking at one-lump-number with no idea what’s happening, we have an opportunity to look at the bits and pieces of our taxes.

But the bits-and-pieces approach also can work against the taxpayer. When an agency comes calling for more, we only are looking at its little slice of the pie. We forget about the larger picture.

In my case the larger picture says I owe $3,200, up 4 percent. Last year I had a 10 percent increase.

And all of those $3,200 payments add up. This year the math says $507 million. Half a billion dollars. Did I already say that? Sorry. Lou Brancaccio is The Columbian’s editor. Reach him at 360-735-4505 or lou.brancaccio@columbian.com. Twitter:@lounews.