For the third year, I’m working on a lower-tax-increase option for Tiverton’s budget for the next fiscal year. In the past two years, budgets for a 0.0% increase and a 0.9% increase that I’ve submitted have won overwhelmingly. This year, the goal is another 0.9%.
As is the case everywhere, most likely, the budget battles in town really do come down to two perspectives on local government. The majority of those who pay very close attention to the activities of local government seem to see little distinction between the Town of Tiverton and the agencies that perform its government functions. Sadly, evidence from the local to the national levels suggests that this is a natural human tendency.
The alternative perspective is that a town (or state or country) is not chiefly defined by its government, but by the people who live there. Moreover, the priority is broader social and economic health, not the comfortable operation of the government.
I say this because the map at the above link shows Tiverton with by far the highest tax rate of surrounding cities and towns, with the exception of Warren, and the 3.5% increase in the tax levy that the town government wants would bring that gap down to $0.30. At the same time, the town’s property values are barely growing, and revenue is dropping from all of those sources that indicate growth and improvement: licenses, permits, and inspections.
Meanwhile, if the town’s taxes had increased at a healthy 2.5% annual rate since the start of the century, rather than twice that, total taxes would be 30% lower. Now, if the town government has its way, the total increase in property value that residents managed, last year, will be eaten up by this one tax increase in fewer than seven years.
That just isn’t sustainable. A town government can’t build multiple buildings each decade (on debt), keep hiring new positions, despite little growth and declining activity, and habitually give out raises beyond the private sector’s capability without hurting the people who actually are the town.
In terms of a budget, that means starting with an assessment of what the people can afford, not what their neighbors would like government to take from them.