Friday, June 15, 2012

What went up isnít coming down


It's no wonder taxpayers are cranky.

Property values in the Sun Valley area increased by double digits for at least a decade until the 2008 mortgage crisis cracked America's financial foundation. City, county, school and tax district budgets went up with them.

Yet, as property values have dropped precipitously, the public budgets that went up haven't come down in any way that's visible to taxpayers.

There was an audible gasp around Blaine County this month when property owners opened notices showing that many values in all areas of the county had fallen in excess of 25 percent, some in just one year.

That's a big number. Yet, taxes won't drop at the same rate and it's likely they won't decrease at all.

For people who have owned the same property for many years, this year's notices were like getting the news that the funny money in the game of Monopoly isn't legal tender. They weren't unduly concerned. They'd watched property values go up, knew they were ridiculous and thus could be unperturbed by the drops.

However, those who bought property during the decade of overheated speculation in real estate saw real cash, not funny money, go up in smoke. It's money that they may be unable to retrieve in their lifetimes. People who took out loans backed by their previously high property values are in the same boat.

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Whether property owners are sitting pretty or not, they're anxious about the future. But their angst has inspired little sympathetic action from elected officials in the way of budget cutting.

The Blaine County School District is the largest taxing district in the county. Without even flinching, the School Board recently approved significant pay and benefit increases for teachers for next year. This week it conferred the same on highly paid non-union administrators and other district staffers.

To his credit, School Superintendent Lonnie Barber declined a raise, but that won't move the tax needle a bit.

Taxpayers can't look to area cities or the county for any significant relief even if officials cut budgets because the cuts will be a drop in the bucket compared to the School District's share of all taxes levied.

Granted, public budgets didn't go up at double-digit rates even when property values were skyrocketing. Increases were limited by state law. Also, local units of government have absorbed cuts in revenues from the state because of lower income-tax collections. Deft cost-shifting made such cuts and their repercussions largely invisible to taxpayers.

State laws and elected officials are behind the times on what's happened to taxpayers. Officials need to hold the line and give taxpayers a fair shake in good times—and bad.




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