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Common sense and taxes

By tradition, we take the term “revolt” very seriously here in Orange County. The practice goes back prior to the founding of the country; and thanks in part to a little rebellion that brewed up in Orange and Alamance counties in the mid 1700s, the groundwork for a revolution was set.

So when those orange signs proclaiming another Orange County tax revolt started to pop up, folks were indeed curious. Turns out that the group responsible, while it has some local members and interest, is not exactly native to our area, nor is it focused on the recent revaluation.

No, Freedom Works is a GOP-organized effort to recruit new members to the party and to instill in it a more libertarian philosophy when it comes to taxes. The group is led by, among others, former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, who may or may not have ever heard of Orange County. As the Republican Party strives to rekindle its fires and deal with the drubbing it took in the past election, the group and others like it have been organizing various tea parties and tax rebellions across the country. That’s fine. That’s their right.

And there is nothing wrong with citizens worried about rising taxes banding together and voicing a collective opinion. It’s happened before, albeit without so many signs.
But there is a lot of misinformation out there and we’d like to take a shot at a few corrections.

First, revaluations happen on a regular cycle. The last one was in 2005.
The next one is in 2013. Second, the recent revaluations for residential properties average 22 percent countywide. The county and the towns will start their budget processes by knocking down the tax rate by that amount to keep the revaluation “revenue neutral.” So if your house increased in value by more than 22 percent, you will be paying more taxes. The reason you will be paying more taxes is that your house is worth more money. If you feel like the value of your home rose too high too fast, you are encouraged to file an appeal.

As they do every year, the towns and the county will review their budgets and decide whether to raise taxes. No budget has been drafted yet and no tax increase has been proposed. Drafts of the budgets begin to emerge in April and there is a series of hearings to give citizens an opportunity to examine and discuss the items and any proposed increase. The budgets are voted on in June in time for the beginning of the new fiscal year on July 1. This process is neither a mystery nor a conspiracy.

What can be a little mysterious are the details of those budgets. Finding places to trim are not as easy as saying “cut government waste.” Your waste may be someone else’s safety net, the neighborhood down the street’s curb and gutter repair, another fire truck or a competitive salary for a school nurse or police officer. There is little that any local government does in Orange County that could be described as fluff. There are corners that can be nibbled at in traditional areas – like travel expenses, lunches and office supplies – but it is difficult to find in them even the roughly $1.25 million that it would take to cut a penny off the tax rate.

In the county’s case, about half of the money we pay in taxes goes to education. In the case of the towns, providing the police and fire departments and garbage pickup represents the bulk of ongoing expenses. Each town has focused in the past few years on improving infrastructure, which, naturally, costs money.

We welcome any ideas on how to keep costs and taxes down. We encourage those of you willing to take a serious crack at budget cutting to send your thoughts in as a letter to the editor.

For those of you who say “enough,” we’d like to know “enough what”?

What do we have too much of? What should we curtail? Where should we cut?

Here are the ground rules — the same ones the commissioners and town leaders are playing under: You can’t alter the state or federal constitutions, overturn any court rulings or obtain special legislation from the General Assembly.
Have at it, tax revolters. We welcome your leadership and sacrifice.

9 Responses

Comments (8)

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  1. wen

    Thanks for your observation.
    I am not associated with any party, not politically motivated.
    The issue is about economy.

    How can I pay this inflated tax bill for 2009?
    If we are all suffer in the current crisis, what right do county comissioner or school board have to spend as usual?

  2. Sophie King-Lowe

    Eliminate funding bus service. Let UNC pay for it. That is 1.6Million dollars off the top.

    Make Parks and Rec revenue neutral. Wanna play basketball in a rec league? Pay for it.

    This ain’t rocket science. It is a sad reflection on those running the town that the response is always “there is nothing to cut”.

    The people who support the town have had to cut back. Get your hands out of our wallets, Carrboro. Keep police and fire, and cut the rest. How hard is that to understand?

    This place is nuts.

  3. Sophie King-Lowe

    And, as a newspaper- quit apologizing for the government.

    Very irresponsible.

  4. Monitor

    It’s not irresponsible to explain what government is doing – that’s an essential journalistic function. Nowhere is it written that newspapers are required to criticize, as conservatives were eager to point out over the past 2 decades.

    Otherwise, saying “let UNC pay” for buses? Who do you think funds UNC? And you haven’t ridden a bus lately if you think only UNC students and staff use the buses.

    Glad to have the Libertarian push behind this “revolt” outed – very suspicious, and logically tangential, to have jumped on valuation for use as the boiling stone for the anti-tax gang, who verge on anarchists in their unwillingness to contribute to services they imagine they don’t need or use and never will.

  5. svaraj

    I wonder if some of the people behind the scenes on this one are the same characters behind the TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) State initiatives? Keep digging.

    NC is ripe for “libertarian” uprisings- with Chapel Hill/Carrboro being an easy target for anti-government activists. I’m afraid our local leaders are being baited- and the county citizens are being used.

    The future of Republican Party activism will be through stealth attempts to dismantle government programs and services. Beware Right-wing Libertarian groups posing as populist uprisings.

    Local anti-tax groups can usually be traced back to a handful of national players– whose purpose is to advance an agenda that has very little to do with local issues. Not that anyone at local meetings would be aware that they are being manipulated; they never are.

    Dick Armey is just one of many national players; others are hidden among us. Some of the shadowy players may even be purchasing Orange and Wake County real estate, and funneling funds to groups (and politicians) through their network of LLCs…

    As always, follow the money.

  6. metoo

    The taxes on my automobile were assessed at 30% OVER the current retail value. When I asked where they got their figures, they told me they hired an “Outside Source.” The fine print I did not see was that I had 30 days to appeal it. I missed it and was stuck paying the entire amount. This is not a new game.

  7. Death and taxes

    The tax situation in this county is nuts. Why do we rely so heavily on property tax as a source of revenue? Why such a small commercial tax base? Why so little advertising on Chapel Hill buses?

    The lefties in this area are anti-business and pro taxing residents to death. Let’s get some big box stores in southern Orange Co., increase revenues from business and keep our tax dollars from going to Durham Co.

    Regarding the conspiracy theory about Dick Armey and the GOP. They’re supposed to be the party of limited gov’t, so why any surprise about who might be behind the “tax revolt.” I’m happy someone is speaking out for the little guy.

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