The wonderful “No tax pledge”

Politicians make no tax increase promises. (then break them..) They put one-liners on campaign literature stating they are “for lower taxes”. The problem is few actually lay out how they intend to do so without sacrificing quality of life. Personally I won’t put “I’m for low taxes” on my campaign materials without the necessary how.

Unfortunately the answer doesn’t fit on a postcard. But I refuse to water it down. So let’s break it down.

The current tax proposed by the township manager is to make up a 1.6 million dollar deficit in the capital projects fund. This includes items for basic municipal services such as: A Fire Police rescue truck, mowers and lawn equipment, bridge engineering and facilities maintenance. Does anyone argue the importance of these items?

Now there are a few items that I would put into the category of “non-essential”. One example is a new leaf vacuum at a cost of 45,000 dollars. No the township doesn’t have to pick up leaves but we do. It’s one of the things residents like about living here. It’s a very popular service. Are you wiling to sacrifice that level of service that comes with living a nice community?

But let’s move beyond this question to what I really fear. The real threat. The bigger issue is funding future liabilities created by sweeping zoning changes. Some of these items include providing police protection for a fast growing population, new road improvements and signals to handle increased traffic, resurfacing additional roadways, and more storm water management systems. These are all liabilities we’ve created last 20 years. In the last 3 we’ve rezoned over a square mile of farmland to more intense uses. These are the liabilities that can bury us.

Remember, all new growth has two associated items:

1. The good, the Revenue and 2.  the bad, the Liabilties

Not all development produces a net gain. One that is a notorious drain is sprawling strip commercial.

Do you know what type of land use provides the highest return for residents? Farmland. Studies show it costs around 0.25 in liabilities for every dollar of tax revenue it creates. It’s the by far and away the best use for low taxes. It requires no services, puts no new students in schools and generates no traffic, crime or fire liability. Not to mention it increases property values for adjacent residents.

When politicians up-zone to more intense land uses without providing cost and benefit analysis of the consequences they are setting us up for constant pressure to increase revenue the only other way we can. Through tax increases.

Over the last 20 years and continuing the last 3 years officials in Lower Macungie have buried their heads in the sand. By relying on one time (temporary) windfalls of hyper growth to fund government not only have we hurt quality of life but we’ve also buried ourselves under a mountain of future liabilities. This is both irresponsible and unsustainable. It’s time to make growth pay it’s own way. We must stop the cycle. 

Chasing revenue with the assumption that new ratables are wonderful while ignoring the liabilities side of the equation is like an ostrich burying it’s head in the sand. They are doing exactly what the federal government is guilty of. They are selling off the future for one time and short term gains.

I won’t do that.

That is how to make sure we are not under the yearly threat of lump sum tax increases year after year for the next two decades. Remember, the pressure to raise taxes associated with new growth comes 10 years after the growth. It’s easy for politicians to put feathers in their caps cause they “fostered economic growth” or they “expanded the tax base”. When roads and storm water systems aren’t dedicated to the township till years later they can get away with it. Eventually we’ll be too big for a volunteer fire dept., the new students will require new buildings, crime will rise and demand for services will increase.

These are the big picture reasons why I disagreed with zoning changes such as Jaindl and Allen Organ. Cost and benefit analysis was never provided for either.

This really isn’t rocket science it’s just planning ahead. It’s simple math. Does revenue exceed liabilities? There are projects like Hamilton Crossings where infrastructure exists and new development makes sense. There are others where it will cost us. We should be concentrating our economic development on the Hamilton Corridor so we cash in on investments already made.

Bottom line, if we continue on the current path, not only will we not be able to avoid the current tiny proposed tax, but also risk additional future large lump sum taxes. I want to avoid raising taxes.

It all ties into growth concerns. That is why I support smart growth. Build where the community benefits. Provide cost benefit analysis to prove it. That is my plan for low taxes in Lower Macungie not just for this year, but 20 years down the line.