Budget Observations by Councilman Hoffman… “We are currently in that ‘Never-Never-Land’ “

Commentary By Councilman Pete Hoffman:

We are currently in that ‘never-never-land’ that prevails immediately prior to the publication of the first draft of the County budget.  When good years reigned, few people bothered with the specifics.  A sense of optimism surrounded the process, and while budget discipline might not have been completely ignored, neither was it a subject of importance.  After all why worry excessively over any number of vacant funded positions?

Now in our third year of significant economic difficulty, budget preparations take on a whole different meaning, particularly when further wage reductions and even layoffs are real possibilities.  Let’s be certain we don’t misstate this situation: the Mayor and the administration did not cause this recession.  It isn’t their fault.  At the same time, it’s hard not to overlook the obvious.  A few Council members have continuously argued for pro-active measures to address the County’s economy over the past two years.  While these proposals would not have solved the economic downturn completely, implementation of some of these suggestions would have greatly improved our current situation.  Instead, the decisions that will be made for the next fiscal year may prove more onerous for us all.

Regardless of the short-term ‘fixes’ the administration and Council will debate in connection with the 2011-2012 budget, there are a couple of longer-range proposals that should be adopted immediately.  I’ve mentioned these previously, on several occasions, and they have been met with ‘thunderous silence’.  In my opinion, there should be a top-to-bottom review of our property tax system.  The disparities of the current tax structure need fundamental reform.  I recognize this may not be an overly popular topic, but to continue the maze of tax rates, exemptions, and other aspects that inflict our current tax structure is to continue to promote a system that does not adequately address present day or future budgetary requirements.

Second, this County must institute a complete reassessment of property values, particularly for industrial, commercial and resort properties.  This review should be made by professional consultants outside the

County administration. We aren’t receiving anywhere near the tax revenues we should from these properties.  I can hear the cries already, “you will hurt business!!” Nonsense.  It’s time we understood that County taxpayers cannot continue this form of ‘corporate subsidy’.  The least we should do is to assess other property categories at approximately the same rate as residential properties.  When some resort and commercial interests are assessed at 50% of market value and residential homes are assessed at 80/90%, something needs adjustment.

Once again, it is a matter of fairness, but more importantly, these are potential revenue sources into which the County should expand.  If these recommendations were adopted two years ago, we would be in less economic ‘doo-doo’ then we are today.  Don’t misinterpret.  To enact measures like these demand the ability and commitment to make tough decisions.  Not everyone will be pleased.  However, I assure you not all will be pleased with the measures needed to handle next fiscal year’s budget either.  The question is when do we start to make the changes needed to correct this situation?  The longer we wait, the harder the decisions will be in the coming years.  I strongly suggest that as part of any budget ordinance for 2011-2012, property tax reform and a property assessment review be part and parcel of that document.  If the Council and administration are committed to correcting years of neglect in these areas, the time to do so is now.

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