Increased taxes work for a season, but a vision is needed by local leaders

Published 8:25 am Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Property owners in the county got a break this year with no tax increase. However, city property owners will have a six-cent increase in land taxes for the next fiscal year.

Why are property taxes so unpopular? Here’s Economist Milton Friedman’s reasoning: “It’s not unpopular for good economic reasons. It’s unpopular in my opinion for one simple reason: It’s the only tax left on the books for which people have to write a big check.”

Income taxes and Social Security contributions are withheld from paychecks before the recipients get their hands on the money. Sales taxes (and value-added taxes outside the U.S.) are remitted by merchants and other business. It’s only with property taxes that a regular person gets a bill and has to pay it.

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There’s clearly something to that, although for many homeowners property taxes are bundled into mortgage payments and thus a bit less obviously visible.

There are other reasons that property taxes are unpopular with homeowners. First, property tax bills can rise without property owners doing anything, and rising tax bills can push property owners to make economic decisions they might prefer to avoid, especially if they live in an area where property taxes are extremely high.

Taxes are a necessity. They pay for roads, schools, law enforcement, fire protection, and a myriad of other things, such as garbage pickup in the city. To be sure, the tax hike that City Council approved earlier this month is a relatively paltry amount for the average Elizabethton resident. And again, the things it will pay for are worthwhile. But even small tax increases add up, particularly for people already struggling with housing affordability.

Both the city and county must rely on property taxes as their main source of funding, though they are still expected to address many of the social needs and problems that are common today. In addition, schools are expected to prepare students to be successful in a world far more competitive than ever before, with educations that are far more expensive than years ago.

Perhaps, it is time to take a look at what both the city and county are doing to expand their tax base. How active are we in pursuing new jobs, new businesses, and growing our economy?

Creating jobs and growing the economy should be top priorities for local officials.

Do we have a vision of what we want to be as a community? And, if not, we should have.

We need people in local government like Col. Charles Toncray, W.P. Duncan, and Ed Alexander, early Elizabethton leaders, who had visions of building a town…and they did.

Perhaps what is lacking is not the talent, but the vision.

We challenge our local leaders to look at how far we’ve come and envision our town 20 years from now. A community should never stand still. It should always be on the move. The question is do we know where we want to go, and how do we get there? It all starts with a vision, not taxes.