Time to Pay the Piper - It’s budget season around the state, and as I meet with businesses and individuals I often hear grumblings about taxes and the government (state and local).
Regardless of your opinion of our current State administration, I personally am glad that Governor LePage is trying to revise the state tax structure. It needs help.
What also needs help however is perception. Recently in a small Maine town, there was substantial griping about the amount of taxes imposed by the town council. Social media was all aflutter with cries to “Cut the police dept,” “Fire the economic development director,” “Cut public works.” This, in a town where the Town office is only open 4 days a week and the transfer station operates on reduced hours.
In response to this social networking chatter, one bold resident responded with the following face book post. I have edited it a bit for brevity, but I share it with you now because I think it’s important to consider this perspective.
What are you willing to pay a year:
1 -For your family’s safety? I put this first because it really matters most to me.
2 - To protect your property? Including public property we own as citizens. Upkeep and maintenance of things like plow trucks, school buses, police cars, etc. Volunteers could be tapped to maintain these items. That would save some money, but I don’t want to volunteer, so I’ll keep paying.
3 -For your child’s education? To include a well-rounded education with sports, the arts, and administrators to make sure we are following guidelines. We all want the best education for our dollars, and educated teachers that will go above and beyond what we pay them.
4 -For a community that comes together for rec programs, which leads to happier, healthier people with life satisfaction? Again, we would need people to maintain the fields and schedules. Volunteer coaches and people printing and distributing flyers (ink and paper cost so much these days). Actually, I’ve noticed that a lot of this has gone electronic, that must be saving me some money after all, and I’m sure glad someone was there to think of it. Anyway, I don’t really have the time, rather pay my part for this.
5 -How about maintaining the roads during winter so you can get to work, school, store, or anywhere else you need to go? I’m so glad I can pay someone for that, and don’t have to get up at 3a.m. to make sure my path to where I need to go is free. Can you even imagine trying to coordinate this on your own with your neighbors one by one? What if one neighbor right in the middle didn’t want to help out? That would sure be frustrating. No thanks; here’s my money.
6 –How about those who manage our voting and pay the town bills? Bringing the machines in, monitoring the process, preparing the ballots, counting, and submission to the state and probably a lot of other stuff I don’t understand. Glad there is someone to do that for me.
Truth is, there are a lot of positions, expenses, and people out there doing stuff I don’t want to, don’t know how to, don’t have time to do, so that my life is better and easier. Most of the time, I don’t even have to think about this stuff getting done, because once a year I pay other people to do it for me. I am glad and blessed that I’m able to do this. I break down taxes the same way I do everything else that costs me money. The percentages aren’t so daunting when I think about how much it takes to maintain my lifestyle as I have come to expect. I guess if the day comes when I decide that I can’t or won’t pay, I’ll go homestead somewhere, live off the grid, and hunker down for the winter. Ask yourself. How much am I willing and able to pay for these services?
With a little perspective comes the realization that we are all part of a society that has needs. These needs are expensive. When a community continually reduces taxes and services, it no longer becomes a place we want to live. Please don’t misunderstand, there are efficiencies to be gained and things we can do smarter, but cutting for the sake of cutting is a downward spiral that can be the end of a vibrant community. One of the most common problems in small town Maine is that the council often only hears from the disgruntled unhappy residents. This leads them to make decisions that are not in the best interest of the entire community.
So I encourage you to attend a meeting or two – speak up on behalf of a vibrant community and stop the downward spirals that are plaguing so many of our small towns. We will all be better for it.