South Florida Sun-Sentinel.com
Want to stop the county and city tax trains?
Learn how they work and start early
December 17, 2008
It's getting to the point where almost everyone, sooner or later, lobbies local governments. Everyone joins a long parade of people who troop before our city councils with their hands out. Most everyone only has a "want," which they swear is a "need." Special interest groups constantly press for more, more, more taxes.
So, municipal officials experience only incessant upward pressure to raise taxes, from people who feel they are entitled to the fruits of someone else's sweat.
The result? Many local governments show no backbone and tend to cave in to the pressure. It's easy to understand why: Rarely do residents come before the various councils to protest the overall tax burden.
But there's a way citizens can stop higher taxes. It starts with understanding how governments build up an unstoppable head of steam for their tax trains.
Local governments fire up their tax locomotives very early each year, usually in January. Staffs meet and start drafting budgets, calling for requests and hiring wish lists from all departments. This is done quietly, often without the input of elected officials.
By spring, the tax train has picked up speed. Preliminary plans and budgets are set, usually including raises and other benefits for the staff. The bureaucrats make sure they are taken care of financially in the blossoming budget process.
By summer, the tax train is a juggernaut. At some point, the staff starts briefing the electeds on budget needs. The staff makes sure the electeds understand how "dire" the consequences will be if the recommendations are not followed. Most of this planning takes place well before public input is sought.
Your only chance to reduce your city's taxes is to organize and get vocal. Put a group together and develop a strategic tax rebellion plan that must begin very early, before government staffs begin their earliest meetings. For advice on organizing, contact www.volusiataxreform.com or www.CutPropertyTaxesNow.com.
Insist on meeting early with the chief administrator of your city, and set up a regular schedule of meetings. Ask to be put on mailing lists. Be prepared to make specific recommendations.
Few local groups publicly criticize the overall level of taxes in the county. You can step forward. If so, your work must start Jan. 1.
John R. Smith is chairman of Palm Beach County's BizPac and owner of a financial services company.
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