First Page Funnies

I had to laugh. It isn’t often — indeed, I don’t recall it ever happening before — that an article on Page One makes me chuckle. Maybe I’d better get used to the idea, however, given the state of the nation, and of the press.

The headline read: "Home tax won’t fall very much." The article explained that, although housing costs have fallen substantially (the word used was "plunged") the property tax will drop little, if at all. And why not? Here’s the mirth-inducer: " — news reports of double-digit drops in housing prices are mostly irrelevant, county officials say."

The last property assessments were made in 2007, when housing prices were considerably greater. Most homes in the county were reassessed at 22% higher values, on average. There were widespread complaints of the escalated property taxes that accompanied the reassessments, but I don’t recall encountering the term "irrelevant." Indeed, when the real owners of the property raise the fee they are charging you to live in "your" house, it’s as relevant as it can be. Try explaining to the collector that you regard his demand as irrelevant!

Are the rulers simply removing the mask, and revealing themselves as thieves, although acting "lawfully," because, after all, they make the laws? No, of course not! The problem, for you, but not for them, is with the computer. It does not recognize a house that’s been foreclosed. It similarly disregards one sold as part of an estate settlement. It may, or may not, take into account several price cuts on a house that finally sold after many months on the market. And that’s because such situations are, evidently, misleading, according to the chief thief, or county tax collector. Such things as foreclosures, sales between banks and S&Ls, and homes on the market for prolonged periods are simply not "free market enterprise," he said, apparently without shame or embarrassment. Of course, computers can be re-programmed, but that is probably irrelevant.

What about the reports of the Mid-America Regional Information Systems, which show double-digit declines in home prices? Well, the collector said, they do not represent the real market. In fact, some neighborhoods can even expect a slight rise (!) in assessments this year!

Apparently it works like this: if your home increases in value (as it deteriorates) you can expect a higher property tax. On the other hand, if its value drops, you can expect to pay just as much as you did before. A tax expert working with the Missouri legislature refers to this system as a "roll-up." He is quoted as saying, "Taxing districts are allowed always to collect the same amount of revenue as the year before." (Allowed? By whom? Why, the same people who benefit from the tax, of course!) This, we’re told, is designed to compensate for taxes not going up when home values increase. Except: has that ever happened?

Unmentioned is the fact that the tax is a percentage of the assessed value. And that percentage is determined by the rulers, who benefit from, and collect, the tax. So no matter how low the valuation might be, the tax rate could be increased. Do you get the impression this game is fixed?

So it’s all very simple: the powers that be are going to charge you a fee for living in your house, and they will try to make that plunder seem, somehow, reasonable, by linking it to your home’s value. But if that value decreases, they’ll demand as much as they did before. Should you have the temerity to question such a looting, your complaint will be dismissed as irrelevant. This coincides with the feds use of the term "frivolous" in dealing with any questions that they cannot, or dare not, answer. Also unanswered, of course, is the question of how the assessor can determine a home’s value in terms of units which he cannot define; namely, "dollars."

If you live to be very old, in the very home in which you were born, would you finally be able to live in that home without paying annual tribute? Could you eventually live there free and clear?

The question is irrelevant — and frivolous.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is author of All Work & No Pay, which is out of print, but may occasionally be obtained on eBay.

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