The year after an election routinely brings tax increases for local property owners.
It’s an unfortunate tactic elected officials employ to avoid consequences at the ballot box from voters. The idea is voters will not remember three years from now their taxes were increased. Even if they do recall the decision, enough years will have gone by that property owners will make the necessary adjustments and consequently not be as sour over government taking more from them.
As we move through 2019, we will be watching our local governments carefully. We will call them out on increasing taxes unless every measure is made to reduce spending rather than simply grabbing more from property owners. Even before the calendar flipped to 2019, it seemed the groundwork was laid for tax increases at the Worcester County level and in Berlin.
In Berlin, a tax increase of some sort is almost a certainty due to the town’s fund balance, or rainy day fund, not being healthy enough. Town auditors implored town officials during an audit review last month to increase the fund balance from the current $3.7 million (enough for five months of government expenses in an emergency) to a more reasonable level after reviewing the town’s vulnerabilities. During that review, Mayor Gee Williams said the town council needs to discuss how it can increase revenues to address the fund balance through fee or tax increases. In the summer, Williams also mentioned increasing taxes to sustain rising EMS costs to the town.
In Worcester County, after hearing a gloomy report on rising retiree health costs, Commissioner Joe Mitrecic said what many of his colleagues were thinking – more funding is needed to keep this liability within reason. As is always the case, pressure will be put on the commissioners this spring to adequately fund the public school system. Increasing property taxes will surely be considered.
With assessments surging, especially on the commercial front, an influx of new revenue is likely without a tax rate hike at the county level. There is no reason the county can’t control its expenses while putting funds toward the retiree health account. We are skeptical, however, as the county has been prone to inching up the tax rate after an election. It’s an obvious tactic, one that should irk voters. It bothers us for sure.
The immediate year after an election is simply the safest time for elected representatives to increase revenue without having to cut services. It’s important for property owners to be aware of this and to remember it if it does play out as we expect. There are better options than simply taking more at a politically convenient time from the people who call this area home.