Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Property Tax Silly Season

Property digests are out and cities, including Dunwoody are posting their Notice Of Property Tax Increase. Why can that be? Well the short answer is because they are required to by law and rest assured were they not required you would never get that memo. Apparently the practice of back-door tax increases had become such a prevalent practice annoying so many voters that the State was compelled to step in mandating these fleeting notices.

What you will see and hear for some time is "We didn't raise the Tax Rate, ignoring the fact that your tax bill did indeed go up. More aggressive and egregious propagandists will simply say "We didn't raise taxes" with the assumption that you believe "tax rate" is implied or that your tax lies unnoticed buried in some escrow account or that you're just plain stupid.

In DaVille it gets better. We don't have a lot of greenfield left to develop, limiting inventory, creating scarcity and inherently driving up property values. That Econ 101 stuff you slept thru really works. You kinda knew that when you bought--you expected your home value to rise and at least be a hedge against inflation. Here's a news flash: the folks running this city know this and they're using it to their advantage. Hence the State disclosure law.

A knock-on effect of this inherent limitation on traditional development (setting aside for the moment high density residential -- apartments -- and high density office) is that the service demand you, as a traditional suburbanite, place on City operations is not increasing. But your tax bill sure as hell will. So think back to the days of Dunwoody Yes! who loudly complained about our tax monies being funneled down south and how at shift change cops headed straight down to Buford Highway. Are you deja vu-ing yet? Fast forward to citihood and our tax increases are being thrown to the growing service demands of Perimeter Center where unrestrained growth is the order of the day.

Even still a fundamental question remains: is tax revenue a direct derivative of needs? Of course not. These backdoor increases are viewed as revenue windfalls and every penny will be spent.  It seems inherent in government budgeting to fund existing programs with year over year increases and add new programs whenever the opportunity arises.  No politician is going to openly justify OPM spending each and every year, no more than they will annually review portions of City operations to determine if they are needed going forward. And no one is going to even suggest zero based budgeting as this was merely a Fool's Tool that was used pre-city to beat up on DeKalb.

In an election cycle that saw the prominent politician who drove us towards citihood demand a more accurate accounting of eSPLOST-V spending maybe it is not so unreasonable to demand a similar accounting from the City regarding this tax increase.