Something's got to go

Ruby Sinreich's picture

For better or worse, Orange County voters have rejected two different proposals for raising more money for county government. And yet, I don't hear anyone seriously calling for shutting down any of the vital services offered by the county. They're going to have to find some slack somewhere, so perhaps we can help.Please vote for your top three recommendations for how to balance the county budget.  If you don't see your preference, just write-in an option and it will be added to the poll.

Total votes: 0

28 Comments

Mark Marcoplos's picture

We are a wealthy society

The sum of the taxes that are paid to all of our governments is staggering. The farther you get from local governments, the more waste and corruption there is. Local officials all across the country should refuse to raise local taxes and demand that our taxes be distributed fairly and that corporate welfare be justly addressed. Any other option is just enabling a corrupt system.

jstrope's picture

I voted against the sales

I voted against the sales tax (and the transfer tax) because I think the county has no need for additional revenue streams. Property taxes are a fine vehicle for raising funds for the county and they should be raised if additional revenues are needed.That said, I'd be fine with reductions in education spending, affordable housing spending, library spending or economic development incentives.   

Property Tax growth

I would agree with you if the property tax was implemented fairly. Houses above the average get penalized every revaluation year. The last 2 revaluations mine went up 25 and 29%. Yes thats 25 and 29% in each revaluation year. Now tack on the annual 4-6% increase in non revaluation years and it doesn't take long for above average homes to grow exponentially. Many people in the county are on and will be on fixed incomes upon retirement that have worked all their lives to have a house.This type of gowth is extremely burdensome to keep up with for fixed income households and has the potential to gentrify those who can't keep up further driving the the middle class out of the county. That is why I favor implementing sales/real estate transfer/ and income tax combined with serious property tax relief to spread the burden out and more fairly distribute the cost to the cause of the increased revenue demand namely new residential growth not covering the new services needed for that growth.

James Barrett's picture

Income tax

I think that's a great suggestion.  There are so many people who live out of town.  Sales tax isn't perfect because of our limited retail choices in the county.  But an income tax would be very helpful to capture those who use our services during the day, but pay property taxes elsewhere.  Same reason NYC has one.

jstrope's picture

I'm not sure I'd define a

I'm not sure I'd define a tax as "fair" based on an individual's ability to pay it. Rather, I'd define taxes as "fair" based on the benefits one receives from payment relative to others who pay the same tax. Simply pushing the tax burden onto others while demanding the same or increased services would qualify, in my mind, as completely unfair.I too am frustrated with the increases in arbitrary "valuations", but absent those revaluations, we'd simply have skyrocketing rates against static valuations.If people are upset with increasing taxes, they simply need to identify services that the county provides that they no longer want or need and work to eliminate those services or make them more efficient. Blaming "new residential growth" seems odd as that residential growth results in increased property tax revenues. If those increased revenues can't keep up with the costs of expanding services, that's a sign that your tax rates are, in fact, too low, or your demands for services too great.Furthermore, at one time, where you live was "new residential growth". Is there something special about your situation that made you immune from shouldering the extra burden you're recommending?Personally, I believe adding to the sales tax or instituting a transfer tax or any new tax scheme simply encourages the game of charades that we play with the costs of running government. We cannot keep trying to fool ourselves by thinking that the tax burden can simply be passed on to whichever target we label most "responsible" for our problems during any given election cycle without any costs to our communities or selves. To me, the formula is quite simple -- if you expect to receive services from the county, be prepared to pay a cost of similar relative value.

James Barrett's picture

Is there a place for socialism?

Personally, I believe that government also has to look out for the "common good" (aka "General Welfare" if you feel a need to pin it to the US Constitution) and provide services to those who can't afford to pay for them.  I believe we have a better society overall if this is the case.  So it is a question of which and how much we collectively want to fund, not just which ones are willing to be supported for yourself.

jstrope's picture

I do believe in creating a

I do believe in creating a "fairer society" -- so does everyone. The problem is that all of our definitions of "fair" will differ and often contradict. The same thing will happen relative to the other subjective terms ("common good", "general welfare", "can't afford", "better society", and "collectively") you used in your post.Your post posed one "question" that I can see -- "Is there a place for socialism?" The answer, of course, is yes. That place is measured by the extent to which people agree with a chosen set definitions of the nebulous concepts you used or the extent to which someone is willing to apply violence to make them comply with that chosen set of definitions. In other words, I don't actually see a question there as the nature of the query implies that my own thoughts or opinions are irrelevant. You might as well ask "Is there a place for war" or "Is there a place for gravity" or "Is there a place for sex"? Are there other questions I'm missing? Are you asking me if I think county government should blindly give away any service to anyone with any need? If so, I would answer no as that is neither economically sound or financially sustainable.

James Barrett's picture

You stated a couple of times

You stated a couple of times that you think services should be paid for by those who benefit --

I'd define taxes as "fair" based on the benefits one receives from payment relative to others who pay the same tax
if you expect to receive services from the county, be prepared to pay a cost of similar relative value.

 a very stupid question: "how can I continue to give away services that have costs?" The answer is you can't. So, either end the service or start charging for it. And if you start charging for it an no one wants to pay, perhaps the value of your service isn't what you thought it was.

 I assumed from those statements (which you stated in pretty absolute terms) that you don't believe government has any business providing services to those who can't afford it.  My question was whether you acknowledge a place for government to provide for those who cannot -- you sort of answered that it is an obvious yes.

 But I think that conflicts with your previous statements, so I'm curious how much should government provide?  It goes back to the original question Ruby posted -- are there specific services you don't think should be provided at no charge because they aren't paid for by those who benefit?

 I'm sorry if you thought I was making your thoughts irrelevant.  I was trying to answer for myself to provide some clarification on the question, not discounting that your answer is perfectly valid as well.

jstrope's picture

I don't understand your use

I don't understand your use of the terms "has any business" or "acknowledge a place" relative to government actions. Government certainly has a place providing for those who cannot -- it can and does take resources from one group to give to another. Secondarily, it "has a business" doing whatever it pleases so long as it can overwhelm those who might disagree. Such is the nature of government.Personally, I believe that in a time where one element of the population wants continued services while another element wants lower taxes, then a fine compromise is to ask those who want continued services to contribute additional funds to support their use of those services. In a time where a population, however, wants continued services and lower taxes, I really don't have much to offer aside from a message of "good luck".

A common response to "What

A common response to "What to cut?" is "Everything by X percent" as opposed to picking a specific category to eliminate. Part of property taxes goes towards support for affordable housing?  My irony needle is jumping.  Even after breaking it down into specific categories lots of people don't know exactly what the money is spent on.  If you broke everything down further into exactly what the money is spent on (which would make an extremely long list) and asked people if it was worth spening I suspect most people (most people in OC, not necessarily on this board) would say to entirely cut it to a lot of items.  Then again the things they do want they'd defend vociferiously.  It's a form of NIMBY.  In other words, NWDMB where NWDMB stands for Not What Doesn't Benefit Me.

Positive feedback loops

All systems run on feedback loops. The financing system in Orange County has become a positive loop, meaning that the more homes built and sold, the higher the county budget goes since residential taxes don't pay for their own basic services. In a negative feedback loop, the higher taxes resulting from the imbalance in residential and commercial development would act as a deterrent to the demand for more residential growth, but apparently newcomers to Orange County don't see tax bills as a deterrent until they've already made the purchase. To offset the positive feedback loop, we either have to identify new funding sources or we have to cut services. For an educated community, those who vote here don't seem to understand the difference between short-term and long-term pain.  The transfer tax, a one-time pain, was an ideal solution because it would cause new residents to buy into the system that long-term residents had been paying into for years. The defeated sales tax option was less than ideal (a low-grade, constant pain), but better than nothing. Now we are left with cutting services (extreme pain). But when the commissioners do cut services, such as the Carrboro dental clinic, all they hear are complaints. Something's got to go. We can't have everything. And if we can't provide for basic services like a dental clinic, where do we get the money for economic development which is the long-term solution to this community problem? In the meantime, this positive feedback loops just continues to gain momentum. I believe the county is approaching its debt ceiling. There aren't any pain-free options left. The question really does have to be "what can you give up?" and I think it unrealistic to expect the county commissioners to be the only ones asking and answering that question.

James Barrett's picture

My wife contacted a few of

My wife contacted a few of the commissioners before the election to protest the $2M they want to spend on an upgrade to the property information
system.  The response, in part, was:

The short answer is that these needs, such as the Property Information
Management System (PIMS) and Sheriff's radios, have been considered important
for some time

I'm sorry, but if our commissioners consider technology upgrades to be
"important" at the same time as we are cutting services  to people who need
it most (like the dental clinic), we have a serious problem with the BoCC and county manager.

Radios

I believe the radios for the Sheriff and EMS are important investments.
I think we all want rapid response in the event of an emergency, and hopefully we also want our emergency services to be able to talk to others.As for the property management system, do we know whether the current
system has become obsolete or reached it's capacity? Since property is
the primary budget resource for the county, I'd like to know more about
this before making any claims. I asked the question last week but
haven't received a response.

James Barrett's picture

This whole thing has been so

This whole thing has been so "back door" that we don't know many things.  Like even what the split in cost is between the property system and the radios.  I don't disagree with your statements, but neither do I trust what's happened so far.

Roscoe's picture

PIMS

The new property information system has been in the works for many years, and for years money has been set aside in capital funds to replace the existing "legacy" system. The legacy system consisted of a tax appraisal and collection system developed in 1978 and a land records system that I designed, developed and helped program in 1979-80.How about that, taxpayers? A software system that has run and provided uninterrupted service since 1978. Problem? I retired 5 years ago and the only person who knows how to maintain the system is leaving the county in 45 days. The legacy system had to be replaced, maintaining the strengths of the legacy system and improving its efficiency. It has been a major project to provide a new system and citizens will benefit from its coordination of taxation, GIS, permitting and land records (PIN system). Try it out: http://web.co.orange.nc.us/PINManagementWeb/PinInquiry.aspxIt should be fully functional by the end of December.

Thanks Roscoe

The information Roscoe provides illustrates one of my biggest concerns. The county has run all of its management systems on a thread for years now. Like delaying maintenance on county-owned buildings, at some point we have to deal with the problem. It's good to know they have been planning and budgeting for the PIMS replacement. I wish it was true for building maintenance, too.

Steve Wells's picture

As someone who has actually managed an IT Budget

There is no reason to make changes to upgrade if a system works and can be maintained. Expect cost-overruns, expect system-failures and without the personnel capable of running it, expect it to be much worse.I am often told I don't understand politics in Orange County, but having managed a $2 Million IT Budget, I am 100% sure the new system is going to be a pain in the neck for about 5 years...As for the radios, they probably should have been updated a long time ago. I can't imagine putting our people at risk because they can't communicate. Yes, I also managed the communications infrastructures of companies for 14 years. The two things are not equal: Radios yes. System upgrade is just to pad someone's resume, so no. 

Maintaining systems

That may be true Steve, but read what Roscoe wrote. The system is old and home-grown. The only people who know how to maintain it have left or will shortly leave the job. Do you really want one of the county's primary systems to have no maintenance support? Roscoe didn't say, but I'm guessing based on it's age that it's not a programming language in common usage today. As someone who is currently involved in operationalizing a new system from a legacy system, I can tell you that we would be in deep dodo if we didn't have staff who knew the legacy system and how data is stored and parsed available to help with the conversion.

Buy into the system?

Why do you think new residents should have to buy into the system?  Is Orange County a country club?  What about people that move within the County?  I don't want to go through my detailed opinion of this tax again.  You can look at my old posts.  Some are pretty recent.  But a transfer tax is an incredibly unfair tax.   

But our Commissioners are

But our Commissioners are still in the buying mode. They want to buy land in Carrboro for a library or land in White Cross for a future park. Everytime  a government buys property it is REMOVED from the tax rolls most likely forever. There are options for a park in southwest Orange via OWASA own land or with a community group like the one in White Cross. Two library systems for Orange County do not make sense! Carrboro and Chapel Hill elected leaders protested the dental clinic closing but did they offer rent free town own office space to house this clinic so the County could save the $60,000 plus rent a year? To me it was a wise move, to save money by closing the clinic.Elected leaders in Orange County could cooperate more.

Economic Incentives

Does Orange County have economic incentives?  If so, what are they?  The removal of non-existence economic incentives is not going to save any money.I think education spending is an investment in our future society.  Therefore, we need to address whether the way we are delivering those educational services are really benefitting society.  An investment in our children is a must.  Without it, we are going to be further and further behind the rest of the world. Joal H. Broun

Mia Burroughs's picture

How State and Federal Cuts will Impact Local School Programs

At the link below is a narrated powerpoint that puts local school spending into the context of extremely bleak state budget forecasts. I post it here to remind us that the Orange County Commissioners' choices will be severely complicated by state cuts to education, health, mental health and social services among other things.  http://www2.chccs.k12.nc.us/education/components/whatsnew/default.php?se...