Higher Taxes and Fewer Services:
Irresponsible Budgeting Comes Home to Roost
By: Susan M. Halpern
(Addison councilmember 1992 – 99)
Here it is in black and white:
During the past five years, taxes paid by
Addison residents have increased 20% or more.
Don’t take my word for it. Look on the back of the tax bill you recently received. You’ll find five-year comparisons charts. It’s plain as day: In four out of five budgets years as mayor, Todd Meier has led the council to raise taxes. Here’s what my tax bill shows:
2011 9.43% increase in taxes
2012 7.62% increase in taxes
2014 7.38% increase in taxes
2015 5.17% increase in taxes
The only decrease was 2013, a paltry 1.41%. All told, in five years, Meier has orchestrated a tax increase of 20% or more.
The adverse consequences we have warned about are coming home to roost. Higher taxes are a given. New taxes have been imposed, including the storm water fee that has been imposed and raised under the Meier regime. The unprecedented and alarming exodus of key senior staff continues. You no longer have access to the public libraries in neighboring communities. And if you want to fact-check any of the many conclusions fed to you by this regime, you’ll have to litigate. Addison probably spends more resisting Open Records Act requests than it would cost to simply provide the information.
When it comes to the continual increase in taxes imposed on Addison’s residents, Meier and his cadre mostly avoid the subject like the plague. Their strategy continues to be misdirection and concealment. But again, don’t believe me. Let’s just look at last year as an example of what’s gone on.
Last year, the Meier-led council raised your taxes, even as they decreased the tax rate by one cent. Taxes went up despite the rate decrease because our land values increased. You must always consider both the tax rate and your land value in order to truly evaluate your tax situation. So what did these folks do? They focused your attention on the tax rate, hoping that when you heard about a “lower tax rate,” you would think you were paying lower taxes. And that certainly wasn’t the case.
It gets worse. To meet the legal requirement of passing a balanced budget last year, Meier led the council to use about $800,000 of Addison’s reserves. The reserves are like a savings account. Put it together: Meier funded the one-cent decrease in the tax rate with about $400,000 or more from Addison’s savings account.
Makes no sense, right? Why would anyone decrease the tax rate if you have to dip into your savings account to make up the difference? We gave you the answer when it happened: the council delivered Meier a campaign issue for his anticipated run for reelection. And then came the 2015 election season and sure enough, there it was, front and center in Meier’s no-opponent reelection piece. Meier touted the tax rate decrease as an accomplishment. That’s right, Meier claimed that using Addison’s savings account to fund a one-cent decrease in the tax rate was a victory of leadership. Outrageous and misleading, but also classic misdirection, all sad hallmarks of the Meier regime.
But again, it gets worse. Not only did they pass a budget that relied on reserves in order to balance, they then proceeded to overspend that budget:
The Meier-led council
overspent last year’s budget by $915,000.
Put it all together: $800,000 out of reserves, and then overspending the budget by another $915,000. That means that Meier led this council to overspend current revenues last year by more than $1.7 MILLION DOLLARS. What an outrage and, by the way, not exactly a sustainable business model.
This led to a budget amendment, and of course more tax increases this year, as the council scrambled to make up for almost two million dollars of expenses. And, remember that tax rate cut? Well, it’s long gone now, as Meier led the council to significantly increase the tax rate. As we’ve warned in the past, if you don’t manage the tax rate responsibly, you create problems for future budgets. And that is exactly what this irresponsible council did so that Meier could have his campaign issue. And so, for the first time in at least 35 years, if ever:
The Meier-led council adopted a tax rate
that was higher than the rollback rate.
This is a BIG DEAL. The rollback rate is the highest tax rate that can be adopted without triggering the rights of Addison’s residents to demand a lower rate. If you exceed the rollback rate, citizens can petition to hold an election requiring that the rate be lowered to the rollback rate. If citizens rise up and make that demand, a town’s budget is put into a crisis of uncertainty. How do you proceed with your year, not knowing what your tax revenue will be? The rollback rate is a BIG DEAL. Exceeding it the height of irresponsibility, and it validates every criticism that has been leveled at Meier and his group.
But then, adopting a rate above the rollback rate is also the height of arrogance. This irresponsible council is virtually daring citizens to do anything about any of it. And, they rest easy knowing that they have ceded to Meier unilateral control of communications with Addison’s residents. And so, there’s been no talk about the rollback rate. Meier has seen to it.
But that’s what happens when you have state-controlled media: Those in control shade issues and conceal facts to serve their interests, at the expense of what’s best for Addison.
I really hate to say “We told you so,” but we did. The Truth In Addison website contains any number of cautionary pieces touching on many of these issues, including the consequences of the irresponsible budgeting we have observed. Now that it is really coming home to roost in the form of higher taxes, we hope you will become more active.
Transparency starts with truth, and there has been precious little of it, including with respect to taxes. Such deceit tears at the fabric of democracy and inflicts damage on our Town and its citizens. Addison’s residents need to demand change, including that their elected officials act in Addison’s best interests without regard to their own personal agendas.