On August 26th I wondered what the next shoe to drop might be. I got my answer the next day. I was expecting a shoe. What I got was a hobnailed boot.
In a convoluted attempt to justify what appears to be a 3.5 mill increase on property taxes, Lyon County controller Dan Slater said it could have been worse, thanks to a county wide sales tax increase approved in 2008. Instead of a 12 or 13 mill increase, we’re ONLY getting about 3 and a half.
You’ll have to pardon me if I don’t break out in a string of “Hallelujah’s.”
The 2008 sales tax was cleverly marketed as property tax relief. So, a 3.5 mill increase in property tax and a one cent sales tax have somehow become a great act of municipal generosity. It was like hearing the executioner say the choice will be strychnine or hemlock, the guillotine or the electric chair.
I don’t think folks expected Betty Grable in ’08, but I don’t think they bargained on Frankenstein, which is exactly what they got.
County officials were quick to come to Dan Slater’s defense. As Tammy Vopat put it, “I don’t remember anybody actually coming out and saying keep the mill levy flat.” “I think that people are smart enough to know costs have gone up. There’s no way without cutting something you’re going to be able to keep the mill levy flat.”
If it was an attempt to invoke sensitivity it fell flat on me. Our officials don’t seem to understand that sensitivity is a two way street. To be honest, they appear to be willfully ignorant of the economic impact their decisions have on Emporians who are least able to afford them.
A few years ago we moved my wife’s mother to Emporia. Velma’s a proud woman. During WWII she worked on a B-25 assembly line putting pilot switch boxes together. She was conscientious, knowing how critical the quality of her work was to the men who flew the missions. She’s now a 91 year old widow living on a fixed income. She is the primary caregiver for a developmentally disabled son, who also lives on a fixed income. I don’t think her case is unusual. There are a lot of Emporians living in similar circumstances. They’re not stupid. They do know that “costs have gone up.” When I visit my mother-in-law and her son in the morning, for example, she’s very aware that her property tax bill is higher now than it ever was in Kansas City. She knows that she pays more for water here than she did in Shawnee. She knows that the price of staples like bread, milk, sugar, and flour are creeping up. She also know that sales taxes add another penny or two to every dollar she spends “shopping Emporia first.” When the temperatures soared above the century mark a few weeks ago she didn’t want to turn the air conditioning on, worrying that the increased utility cost would have to be leveraged against a “luxury” like okra, one of her son’s favorite vegetables.
I think a lot of us are getting tired of being flimflammed by officials who appear to be honor graduates of the Marie Antoinette school of sensitivity.
When I was twenty I took a job as a door to door salesman, selling encyclopedias. After two days of training, having the mantra “it will only cost a dime a day, less than the cost of a cup of coffee” drilled into my head, I was sent on the road with the company’s best salesman. He sold a set at the second house we went to. It was impressive. I think he could have charmed the apples off wallpaper if given the opportunity. A few houses later, when my turn came, I kept going back to the mantra – “Sir, this will only cost a dime a day, less than the price of a cup of coffee.” It seemed to be working; the man was on the verge of buying. But then I got hit by a pang of conscience. The man and his family were obviously living on a very limited income. I knew he couldn’t afford the encyclopedias, nor did he need them. I began folding up the marketing materials and explained, “Sir, you really don’t need these. There’s a library down the street and your son can use the encyclopedias there for free.” As soon as we left I got fired. I slept well that night, knowing my conscience was clear.
In the end we’ll get a property tax increase heaped on top of the sales tax increases. I’d like to hope for better, but I don’t have that much faith. Nothing will change here until our leaders truly understand that sensitivity is a two way street.