Thursday, September 3, 2009

Mayor Distlear Plans Tax Increase

Noblesville Mayor, John Ditslear is proposing to charge each Noblesville households an additional $10 to $12 a month for trash collection to help cover budget shortfalls. He’s calling it a “fee,” but just about anyway you look at it, it’s a tax increase.

I heard about the trash tax increase an hour after it was unveiled in a Saturday City Council retreat at City Hall on August 22nd. I scoured the Noblesville Daily Times for the following week but found no mention of it in their pages. In his two weekly columns in the Times since the Council retreat, the mayor wrote about water safety and going back to school, never mentioning that he wanted to raise our taxes. The typical taxpayer couldn’t read about it until 5 days after the Council retreat in the now once a week Noblesville Star, and that article never questioned the Mayor’s use of the term, “fee.”

If somebody at City Hall tries to tell you it's a fee, ask them these 4 questions and see how they do:

1) Am I getting more service for my additional “fee?” (No. We’re paying more to get the same service as before. That’s a lot like a tax.)

2) Is it voluntary? Can I opt out and tell the City, “I’ll just find my own way to get rid of my trash. I don’t need the service and won’t be paying the “fee.” (No. The “fee” is mandatory. That really sounds like a tax.)

3) Will the City lower my tax rate equal to the amount I’ve already been paying for years that covered the cost of trash collection? (No. We’ll all keep paying that, and now also the new “fee.”)

4) If the amount we paid that used to cover trash collection came from taxes, how can the additional amount we’re going to be forced to pay be called anything other than a tax?

The term “fee” is political spin. In reality, this is a tax. You’ll even hear doubletalk like, “Westfield residents pay $10 for trash collection and Zionsville residents pay $11. Noblesville is the only town with trash collection that doesn’t charge its residents a fee for it.”

That rationale leaps right over spin and enters the realm of outright falsehood because it suggests we’ve been getting something free that we will now, in all due fairness have to pay for. But trash collection has never been free for Noblesville residents.

We’ve been paying for trash collection with our taxes. Noblesville City Hall just never broke it out as a separate line item per house and never sent out a separate bill, as they do with sewer bills. No City leader bought it for us with their paycheck and no benevolent trash collector did it for free. We paid for it. But the money we paid for it will now go to some other budget item and we’ll pay the City an approximate $130 extra a year for something we’re already paying for.

When facing a tight budget, this type of “fee” charging amounts to lazy leadership picking the low hanging fruit. They don’t have to fight to justify a cumbersome increase in property taxes; they simply add an extra amount to your sewer bill. That billing system is already set up and operating. A few keystrokes and the city can gather an extra $1 or $2 million from taxpayers.

And now that it’s a line item “fee,” it can easily be raised .50 cents one year, a dollar the next. I’d be willing to bet that the $12 a month will be $20 a month in just a few short years.

One of the things that raise eyebrows about the proposed tax increase is that it’s coming in the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. While families are tightening their belts and trying to figure out how to do more with less money, the Mayor isn’t. Noblesville Common Council member Mary Sue Rowland opposes the new tax and feels that the shortfall should be covered through city belt tightening. Mary Sue told the Contrarian that $2 million could be cut from the City’s budget and make talk of a tax increase irrelevant.

Fellow councilman Brian Ayer won’t go that far, but he wants to see if she’s right before he even considers a trash fee tax increase. Brian told the Contrarian he’s bothered that at the Council retreat they spent over an hour talking about charging a trash fee and only a few minutes about budget cuts. Ayer’s is sure there are large amounts of money that could be cut from the budget, but isn’t certain it’s enough. He wants proof they’ve done everything to cut all the fat before they go to the taxpayers and ask for more.

Though he did not return my call for comment on this piece, fellow councilman Steve Wood voiced opposition to the trash fee tax increase in the Noblesville Star last week.

One can only hope that these 3 Common Council members prevail and a new taxing mechanism isn’t imposed on Noblesville residents.

Local Republicans have been complaining about the possibility of higher taxes at the national level. Well we've got it happening right here and it's being imposed by local Republicans. Maybe we need Tea Party protests at Noblesville City Hall.

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