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Before you cry foul on taxes, look deeper

July 22, 2015
By Jay Light , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

I'm one of those guys who believes in getting good value for what I pay. I apply that principle to choosing restaurants, cars, clothing and all of life's other amenities. I also believe it about taxes. I don't mind paying when I think the dollars are being used wisely for the common good. I do get pretty PO'd when I think they're not.

I've noticed that it's often the same people who constantly whine about high taxes who then complain when services get cut. They don't seem to realize there's a connection. In today's society, any politician who promises to lower taxes stands a good chance of being elected. Conversely, suggesting that taxes need to be raised is invariably the kiss of death to a candidate who is foolish enough to do it.

Here on "da Beach," the tax issue is raising its ugly head. We've finally purchased the entire building that houses Town Hall. We had squandered a fortune paying rent and had nothing to show for it. We needed the space desperately, and we got it for a bargain price. It was a very good deal. Furthermore, the water utility was crumbling before the town was incorporated and, 20 years later, even though we've all lived godly lives, no miracle has occurred to heal it. It is finally getting fixed and water bills will have to rise to pay for it. We also scream for better code enforcement and more efficiency from town government, yet we keep expecting staff to accomplish more with less.

As many residents figure out that this is going to cost something, the island is trembling under the weight of people jumping up and down, already protesting the idea of a tax increase.

The Town Council is currently considering raising the millage rate from 0.7687 to 1.0607, a whopping increase of nearly 40 percent. Mayor Cereceda has stated her desire to see the proposed rate-hike cut back because 'to raise the mil rate and hit (property owners) with storm water assessments is unfair." She sure is right about that. The town's budget, and therefore, the millage rate, won't get finalized until September. Let's hope the Council acts wisely.

Just for the fun of it, I decided to do the math and figure out what this proposed increase, however outrageous the percentage, would actually mean to me and my wallet. The exercise is somewhat academic since my taxable value will certainly increase this year, thanks to the economic recovery.

Here's what I found: In 2014, I paid a total of $2,413.94 on a taxable value of $115,221. (My "palace" is pretty modest.) Of that, the Town of Fort Myers Beach received a paltry $88.57, based on a millage rate of 0.7687. That's not very much. (The fact that the Town is getting screwed by the County is subject matter for a whole different article.) Keeping the same taxable value and using the proposed increase to the millage rate, it turns out I'll have to pony up a grand total of $35.51 more. That's less than the price of a couple of fish sandwiches, fries and a pitcher of beer at several local establishments.

Thirty-five bucks - that's how much it will cost me for everyone to be able to talk to someone in Town Hall without cramming into a tiny cubicle with no privacy; or to feel that permitting and zoning questions are going to be resolved properly without our wasting piles of money on lawsuits to settle mistakes made by overworked, underpaid and occasionally judgement-challenged staff.

The fresh and storm water improvements will cost what they will. I'll pay them gladly to avoid the seemingly monthly boil-water notices from breaking mains and slogging through flooded streets every time it rains.

I urge people to check out what it costs to live in some of our neighboring communities. You'll find out that although living in our little slice of paradise is costing more, it's still a hell of a lot cheaper than most others.

--Jay Light has served the Town on advisory boards in the past and considers himself the Town windbag.



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