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Merry Christmas, Jackson County
By Jack Cashill
© ingramsonline.com (modified version)
This Christmas, I have decided to make Jackson County the primary recipient of my holiday largesse.
In full Santa mode, I am planning to give the County and the various entities for which it collects donations—the Kansas City School Board, the Kansas City Library, the Metropolitan Junior Colleges, etc.—considerably more than I gave them last year.
Not to brag, but I will up my annual donation 89%. How of many you pikers can match that?
That’s right, my contribution to my county of choice is climbing from $2449 to $4623.06 in just one year, and I presume that I will have the pleasure of giving at least this much in the years to come.
I received a notice for my suggested contribution just last week. I must admit that the increase did come as something of a surprise. I had hoped to be able to give more to my church, the City Union Mission, the Salvation Army, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Cashill Girls College Fund, my alma maters, my mother-in-law, but they will surely understand.
The fault really is mine in any case. If I had not frivolously spent $100,000 or so these last fifteen years educating my children in Catholic schools—but honey, wouldn’t it be special if the kids could read and write?--I would have plenty more money to spread around. The $2,850 I will give the Kansas City School District this year should help at least one school in the inventory pass the 50% threshold in at least one subject or at the very least keep the District’s fencing coaches in tights.
Now, you might be saying to yourself that my payment is not really a “contribution,” that I actually have to pay. Well not really. The County offers a generous extended payment plan. If I fail to make the December 31 deadline, I can pay at the end of January, adding only 3.5% in what my Newark cousins might call a “vigorish.” If I choose not to pay for a year, the annual vig of 20% is relatively more attractive. There is hardly a shylock in all of New Jersey who can match those rates.
Better still, if I fail to donate at all, the County will relieve me of the burden of having to care for this house. Indeed, if worse comes to worse, I am told that the County might even put me up in its own housing downtown, feed me three squares a day, and assure me all of the sex I can handle as long as I don’t mind being the indiscriminate recipient of the same.
Enough irony, you mother-loving Grinches. An 89% property tax hike—just on my house alone--is an outrage.
I called the County Assessment office when my tax bill arrived last week and talked to a couple of people in its employ. They seemed relieved to have someone to pass me along to, namely one hapless clerk at the Board of Equalization, who had no more authority to address my grievance than she did to order a nuclear strike on Tehran.
All three of the people with whom I spoke—always civilly, mind you--retreated into the kind of timid bureaucratese that protects those condemned to follow absurd orders everywhere. They each began by confirming my address. When satisfied that they had gotten that detail right, they absolved themselves and their employer of any wrongdoing by stating, just a little bit indignantly, “But we sent a reassessment notice to that very address!”
“A reassessment notice?” I responded. “Just one, by regular mail?” Yup, they had done their job. And if I had to pay an extra $2200 a year for the rest of my life, that would teach me to open my mail, presuming I got it, yes sir!
The Equalization clerk explained the process. The County had reassessed my nearly 90 year-old Brookside house against comparable properties and decided it was now worth $303,000. When I asked at what value a particular neighbor’s house was assessed, she told me “$297,000.”
“That house just sold for $199,000,” I explained. “Well, it’s valued at $297,000,” she huffed, as though my stupid neighbor got bamboozled on the sale. When I clarified my concern, namely that a house is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it--and this took some doing--she told me I could protest at the next Board meeting, but that would not be until July 2006. In the meantime, I just had to pay up.
What she neglected to tell me is that the letter sent in April did not specify my new tax but my new reassessed value. The County explains that the actual impact on individual tax bills “cannot be known until this fall” when state and local governments set their mill levies for 2005. The County then lulls taxpayers into passivity by telling them, “A higher appraised value does not always mean a higher tax bill.”
This same letters come with a bit of a scare as well. “An appeal can result in an increase, decrease, or no change in assessed valuation.” This makes the readers of the letters understandably wary. In a game of free association, the words “equity” and “justice” do not naturally flow from the words “Jackson” and “County.”
The last time I appealed anything in Jackson County it was a speeding ticket. The clerk at Municipal Court assured me that, if I appealed, the worst that could happen was that I would just have to pay the ticket. He apparently didn’t tell James M. Reed, a frustrated hanging judge stuck in traffic court. Upon hearing my case—sort of--the preposterous Judge Reed tripled my fine, just as he had everyone else’s who had preceded me.
“With all due respect,” said I to the judge, “aren’t you discouraging me and these other people from pursuing our civil rights by arbitrarily tripling our fines.”
“I don’t like people who run red lights,” he answered. “Neither do I,” said I, “but I didn’t run a red light!”
Like I say, in Jackson County, in any jurisdiction therein, it pays to be wary. I had to appeal the ticket to another level just to get it bumped down to where I started.
Earlier this year, I faced another unexpected hike. Cherries, the Plaza-based enterprise where I usually lunch, raised the cost of its chocolate custard by 4% or some 14 cents a day. Before doing so, however, the proprietors explained why they had to raise the prices and then apologized for so doing. Ah, free enterprise! This hike will set me back about $21 this year.
Gasoline hikes will cost me about $200 additional this year, and for the pleasure of raising my prices, oil executives are pilloried by know-nothing editorial writers and ambitious politicians. I have spent $3.00 this year in withdrawing money from ATMs out of town—a wonderful service—and even this teeny fee draws angry editorial outcries.
"Congress must realize this upward trend in surcharges will continue if nothing is done," bellowed the consumer group director of the Washington-based U.S. Public Interest Research Group. A survey had revealed that the average ATM fee for non-customers had gone up from $1.30 to $1.42, and this protest drew sympathetic national attention.
But protest your taxes, and you mark yourself a heartless reactionary: anti-child, anti-poor, anti-government, good Gosh! Well, so be it. This year I am voting “No” on everything. And before condemning me, check with your own mortgage company and see what the County has stuffed in your stocking.
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