Wednesday, March 19, 2014
“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong.”
About that increase in taxes, business licenses and other fees approved by Mount Pleasant Town Council last week... sometimes the best way to make a point isn’t to argue it, but to illustrate it.
Suppose an individual taxpayer stood before town council to address them in a public meeting. “Good evening, Madam Mayor and members of council. My name is T.P. Lac. (“Tax paying, law abiding citizen.”) I’m here to ask for your help. You see, I own considerable property assets in this town, and after years of neglect, I find myself in need of some funds to make long-overdue repairs. What I’m asking for isn’t a lot of money, so the amount shouldn’t be a problem. What I’m asking for amounts to a very small percentage of the value of my property, as well as a refund of about 30 cents per thousand dollars of the income generated by my businesses, all of which are located within the town, create jobs and provide income to your constituents.”
Councilman A interrupts with a question: “For the sake of time, let me cut right to the chase. Are you saying that although you own millions of dollars of property and have millions of dollars of income, you need tax relief and refunds of business fees paid to the town in order to make long overdue repairs on your valuable assets?”
T.P. Lac: “Yes, councilman. That’s exactly what I’m asking.”
Councilman A: “Very well then, let me ask you a few questions. First, have you not been putting aside money into a reserve fund for these maintenance needs? I mean, they don’t just pop up overnight – they are a part of the normal ownership and operation of such assets, right?”
T. P. Lac: “Oh yes – I’ve got a very nice reserve fund. But I’d like to hold onto that for other unforeseen occurrences. For instance, we haven’t had a big hurricane here in over a quarter of a century, so I’m keeping my powder dry for the next one.”
Councilman B: “Just how much DO you have in your reserve fund, Mr. Lac?”
T.P. Lac: “Well, councilman, I’ve got $23 million sitting in it.”
Councilman C coughs, sits up in his chair and leans into his microphone. “Excuse me, sir, you mean to tell me that you’ve got income of tens of millions, you’ve known about these needed maintenance items for years, you’ve got a $23 million dollar reserve fund, but you’re standing here tonight asking US to refund some of YOUR property taxes and business license fees because you need the money? It doesn’t look to me like you need the money. It’s sitting in your bank account. What else do you spend your money on?
T.P. Lac: “Well, sir, in the past few years I’ve bought some very expensive property on the marsh...”
Councilman C interrupts: “And I bet you make a lot off that property, right? Like user fees and parking?”
T.P. Lac: “Well, no sir. Actually, I let everyone use it for free. People come from all over to use it – other towns, other counties, even other states. I want them to like me and my nice coastal town, so I let them enjoy it at no cost, even though I live here and I paid for it. I also spend a lot of money providing recreation for folks. You know, it’s a quality of life thing...”
Council B: “Now, Mr. Lac, I know you mean well, and you’re really not asking for that much money. It appears you’re a good steward and you’ve done quite well over the last two decades. But given that you’ve got millions in a reserve fund, have tens of millions of dollars of income each year, and seem to have been able to find the funding for recreational things like marshfront property, it seems to me you need to re-prioritize your own spending and use your funds wisely for things that are really essential – like your own infrastructure maintenance. Even though you’re not asking for a large sum of money, it’s really the principle of the thing. You’ll understand that I cannot support your request based on the fact that you already have enough money to handle this need, which should be your priority, while you also seem to be able to find more than enough for other nonessentials?”
T.P. Lac: “Well, councilman, while I’m a little disappointed not to get the funding, my appearance here tonight hasn’t been a total loss. I think now that you and I might just be talking the same language.”
Will Haynie has published more than 400 op-ed columns as a feature columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times and the Hendersonville (N.C.) Times-News when it was owned by the New York Times. His niche is as a humorous conservative. Find him on Twitter at @willhaynie or email him at Haynie.firstname.lastname@example.org.