Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Reddin' up this Post

Hurricane Bobby O' has been upgraded to a Class 4 Clean-up Storm.  Read all about it in the PG today. The main feature, it seems, of the new budget proposal includes more money going to cleaning up illegal dumps, cracking down on crime near schools, and boarding up abandoned building, or generally "reddin' up" as that intolerable Yinzer expression goes. 
A couple things struck me about this article:
(1) Here's the quote: Asked how the city will afford his priorities, he offered few specifics. "We'll get it started, and when we run out of money, we'll look for more," he said.
I personally thing the Cowboy method is the way to go here.  I'm a big believer in shooting first and asking questions later or, to be more precise, asking forgiveness later rather than permission now.  I wonder what the lawyers will say, however, when Bobby has to ask for forgiveness. 
(2) Here's another quote: He [Bobby] said the answer may be better motivated workers, rather than more of them. "Let me see them all sweating a little more," he said.
Work smarter, not harder... or work like a frightened idiot, take your pick.  Now, I make no claims to having any degrees in public policy or management, but doesn't this sound like the governmental equivalent of Office Space?  Granted, those of us in Local government know that we're not doing this for the money... for what it's worth, I'm doing it for the free parking... those of us in Local government are doing what we do because we get some modicum of joy from public service.  Otherwise, this would be a dreary existence replete with reporting to upper (elected) management who has no idea what you do, but will damned well tell you how you're going to do it and is willing to berate you in public for it.
So, here's what I have to say about motivation: either (a) make the rewards of public service more tangible, i.e., increases of pay, pension, benefits, etc. or (b) make the experience more enjoyable.
(3) If Bob really wants to change the face of dilapidated neighborhoods, he can champion a return to the land/building breakout for real estate taxes.  This was something that Bob fought to eliminate when he was on City Council.  
The current system encourages vacant and abandoned properties, as so much of the taxes are based on the value of the building. So, for example, if I have a $1,000 plot of land with a $99,000 building, I am currenlty taxed at the rate of 2.472% (City & School), or $2,472, per annum.  
Now, suppose I let the building go to hell, and the value plummets to $24,000; my taxes also go down to $618.  If the value of the building increases to, say, $199,000, my taxes also go up to $4,944.  What about this tax structure is encouraging me to improve my property?  Wouldn't it be more rational to let the whole thing rot as vacant land, so that my yearly tax costs go down to $24.72?  
On the other hand, suppose I tax the land at 100% value and the building at 1.49% value.  In the first scenario, my taxes are the same: $1,000 for the Land and $1,472 for the building, for a total of $2,472.  Now, if values go to hell, my taxes are still at $1, 357.60; if my value goes up, my taxes only go up to $3,965.10.  There is less incentive here to let my property rot, and more incentive to keep it improved. 
It's counterintuitive, I know, but the math works. 
Combined with homestead exemptions, senior citizen exemptions, and other abatements, the old tax strategy would assist in revitalizing old neighborhoods, and discouraging slumlords. 
But that's just me Bobby; you can go demolish buildings and pick up trash if that makes you feel better. 

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