I truly do not envy county councilmen and commissioners these days.
On the one hand, they have capable public servants – their department heads – telling them they don’t have enough money to properly serve the public.
On the other hand, they have constituents telling them they don’t want any new or higher taxes.
Well, unfortunately, those are mutually exclusive eventualities.
With the county projected to come up more than $4 million short by 2016, you can be sure there are some new taxes coming.
This is not to say county officials have been poor stewards of your tax dollars. There is always room for improvement, of course, but I’ve been watching this county government operate for more than 25 years and for the most part, they’re pretty frugal – pretty conservative.
Most of the things that one could deem excessive have been the outgrowth of federal grant money. Hey, if the feds are going to throw money at us, why not spend it? Unfortunately, that money is always earmarked for specific uses. We’re  buying SWAT trailers and night vision gear with federal grant money, not filling potholes.
I find it more than just a little ironic that conservative county officials are faced with a revenue shortfall caused by conservative tax and fiscal policies at the state level.
I, too, consider myself one of those fiscal conservatives. The “TEA” in Tea Party movement initially stood for Taxed Enough Already.
And while I agree with that notion – I believe we are taxed enough already –  I also see the reality of the situation faced by local government officials.
It’s not like there are fewer people living in Kosciusko County now than there were 10 years ago.
More people means more need for services. More people are going through our court systems. More houses require more assessing and permitting. More traffic means more wear and tear on roads. More development means more strain on infrastructure.
To be sure, development also increases the tax base. But over the years, that increase in revenue has not kept pace with the demand for services.
It hasn’t kept pace with costs, either, which is probably the most troubling aspect of the whole equation.
Pretty much everything local government buys costs more today than it did last year. Of course, at the same time, pretty much everything you and I – the taxpayers – buy today costs more than it did last year, too.
Meanwhile, by any measure, wages aren’t keeping pace.
It’s the old squeeze play.
The county needs more money. The only way to get it is to collect it from local taxpayers. But wages aren’t growing, so taxpayers see more of their disposable income disappear.
This is happening all across this great land.
On a national scale, as more disposable income is gobbled up by government at all levels, less disposable income is available for consumers to buy stuff. This tends to slow down the economy.
When the economy slows, wages stagnate and people become unemployed. This means fewer people paying taxes and people paying taxes at lower levels. This causes government shortfalls and a need to raise taxes.
It’s truly a vicious cycle.
The closer you get to the target of taxpayer-funded services, the more likely it is that tax dollars are wisely spent. As I eluded to earlier, I don’t think our county squanders tax dollars aimlessly.
That’s because the guys holding the purse strings actually live near the people paying the bills. We’re all neighbors.
It gets worse the farther removed from the taxpayer the legislator is.
By the time you get to the federal level, you have lawmakers jamming literally billions of tax dollars down rat holes of ineffective, inefficient, unnecessary, unwieldy government programs.
Show me one federal government program that works well and hits its intended target.
Show me one.
Even the biggies that are hailed as successes – Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security – are teetering on the brink of insolvency.
So I guess I am a lot less forgiving of the federal government when it comes to tax dollars than I am local government. Problem is, there’s only so much money to go around.
If only there was a way to drag some of those tax dollars back home. Ever the dreamer.
So get ready, Kosciusko County. Higher taxes are coming. More than likely this will take the form of a $40 wheel tax and some $25 surtax per vehicle which would be collected when you renew your registration.
There also might be an increase in your property tax rate via the cumulative capital development fund.
These moves, along with moving money around between funds, would help the county achieve financial solvency.
Now, depending on where you live and what you do in this great land, you’re already paying some combination of the  Building Permit Tax, CDL License Tax, Cigarette Tax, Corporate Income Tax, Dog License Tax, Federal Income Tax, Federal Unemployment Tax, Fishing License Tax, Food License Tax, Fuel Permit Tax, Gasoline Tax, Hunting License Tax, Inheritance Tax, Inventory Tax, IRS Interest Charges, IRS Penalties, Liquor Tax, Luxury Tax, Marriage License Tax, Medicare Tax, Property Tax, Real Estate Tax, Service Charge, Social Security Tax, Road Use Tax, Sales Taxes, Recreational Vehicle Tax, School Tax, State Income Tax, State Unemployment Tax, Telephone Federal Excise Tax, Telephone Federal Universal Service Fee Tax, Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Tax, Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge Tax, Utility Tax, Vehicle License Registration Tax, Vehicle Sales Tax, Watercraft Registration Tax, Well Permit Tax and the Workers Compensation Tax.
And this isn’t even close to a comprehensive list because each time our fearless leaders in Washington pass a bill, they add a few new taxes and fees to help fund it.
The Affordable Care Act alone contains at least 21 new taxes and fees.
So let’s look for the silver lining.
All things considered, is a county wheel tax, surtax and a bump in the CCD gonna break ya?