by William Skink
Claiming private-sector charity can make up for a ravaged social safety net is usually a Republican claim, one based on a myth this Atlantic article does a good job deconstructing.
Tell that to Missoula’s City Council.
Before getting to what the Council is proposing, let’s start with the manipulation coming from the Missoulian, which starts with the title of this article: Property taxes got you down? Missoula City Council’s Got Your Back.
A reader might think that the City Council is prepared to address the ever-increasing property taxes that make it more and more difficult for people to stay in their homes, especially if they are subsisting on a fixed income. Think again. Here is what the Council is proposing:
The Missoula City Council is investigating the creation of a donation-based tax relief fund for residents disproportionately affected by rising property taxes.
Even if the fund never gets off the ground, just talking about tax-relief options will help educate Missoulians about programs they may not realize they are eligible for, council members said.
Ward 5 representative Julie Armstrong introduced the idea in August and worked with city staff the last few months to come up with a plan, which will be up for approval from the Administration and Finance Committee in the next couple of weeks.
Her ward in particular has a high number of seniors, Armstrong said, who rely on Social Security payments that don’t keep pace with increases in city and county taxes.
“When our increases hit them, it’s straight cash-out-of-pocket and it’s very difficult for them to manage,” she said. “I’d like to offer them a buffer.”
Let me translate: a “donation-based tax relief fund” is nothing more than charity, and charity is not a limitless resource. I would also like to know why Armstrong thinks the increasing cost of property taxes is only “cash-out-of-pocket” for her senior constituents living off of Social Security. Money is money, and when property owners have to pay perpetually increasing property taxes to fund Missoula’s every municipal whim and desire, it’s cash-out-of-pocket for every taxpayer.
Relying on charity isn’t something that can be budgeted for, and it’s not sustainable, but that isn’t the point, apparently. The scheme here is to raise awareness of existing tax-relief programs already in place:
The city would only dole out as much money as they have in the fund, Armstrong said, on a first-come, first-served basis.
But she estimated that most people would only qualify for $100 to $200, and ideally the fund would hold much more. She initially wanted the city to put in $25,000 to kick-start the program.
But Armstrong said the main goal of the fund is educating people about the four programs listed above, which many people qualify for, but know nothing about.
I don’t have a problem with raising awareness of existing programs, but this charity scheme isn’t a good way to do it. Why? Because anything the City touches costs money, which is openly admitted will happen if this charity scheme takes off:
People would be able to donate and apply for tax relief on the city’s website, where they’d fill out an application and submit proof they are eligible and use one of the four aid programs.
The city would then confirm their eligibility, do the math on how much they would save on their city bill and credit their tax account with Missoula County.
City Finance Director Leigh Griffing said administrative costs should be low initially, though if a large amount of donations come in, it would cost the city more to process them and dole out more money to people in need.
So City Council wants to create a charity fund to alleviate property taxes, but doing so has administrative costs, which makes city services more expensive, which creates more incentive to…wait for it…INCREASE TAXES!
I have a crazy idea for Missoula’s City Council: instead of scheming to direct charity away from non-profits that have no choice but to rely on charity, how about you just stop pushing every bell and whistle inching up our property taxes every year?
Just a thought.