As I’ve spoken with my neighbors about the upcoming referendum to fund a new consolidated middle school, I’ve learned that many people have no idea of what the tax increase will mean for their own families’ budgets. That’s in part because many of us pay our county taxes through our mortgage servicers and therefore never see our tax bills. It’s also because some of us do not know the actual assessed value that the county uses to tax our properties.
In 2015, Pulaski County reassessed home values across the entire county. For many, our homes’ assessed values decreased. (Note: The county’s tax assessment of your home does not necessarily equal the price you paid for your home or the price at which you could expect to sell your home in the future. It equals the value at which your property will be taxed.)
If you want to check on the County’s assessed value of your home, you can do that by visiting www.zillow.com and entering your home address in a box that looks like this:
Once you locate your home, a screen like this will pop up:
Scroll down the page to click on the tab that is labelled “Price/Tax History”:
Next, click on “Tax History” (circled in blue below) and find your most updated 2017 tax assessment (circled in red…yours will likely be a different figure):
Once you have your tax assessment, you can easily find the amount your taxes will increase if the referendum passes using this handy chart from the Pulaski County Citizens for Education site at www.helpusbuildit.com:
At an assessed value of $123,500, the house shown here is close to the median of assessed home values in the Town of Pulaski and its owners are looking at a monthly tax increase that equals something between a monthly Amazon prime membership ($11) and a boy’s Halloween costume at Wal-Mart ($11.46). (Note that this chart starts at $70,000 and, as you can see on Zillow, many of our neighbors out on Robinson Tract and elsewhere in the county have homes assessed at a lesser value which means that their tax increase will be significantly less than a monthly McDonald’s Quarter Pounder meal.)
So this answers the question about how much the tax increase will cost us as individual families, but it can’t answer the question of whether or not individuals can afford this tax increase. Only individual families can know the answer to this question. Most of us can afford it, but some inevitably can not. For many of them, there are options. For our neighbors who are older and/or have a disability, there is the County’s elderly and disabled tax relief program (info here). And for the land-rich, cash-poor farmers, there is the land use tax relief program.
But times are hard all over the country and even harder in places like Pulaski County. If you can not afford this tax increase, then I’m guessing you also have trouble making ends meet on other budget items. Taxes in general and this referendum in particular are not the root causes of your problems, but this tax increase could be the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back. If your budget can’t absorb a tax increase like this one, then you probably have other expenses which, if cut, would offset this tax increase. A good example of this might be your electricity bills. There are programs available to weatherize your home at no charge, regardless of whether you are a homeowner or a renter. (See here for information about the program and here for information about whether or not you qualify for this program. Email us at ten.bonkskaepnull@ofni if you want help navigating that system.) Such a home improvement could do more than offset this tax increase and it would last for many years whereas this tax increase could be temporary if the Board of Supervisors decided to roll some or all of it back in a few years.
The Pulaski Patriot published a letter to the editor from David Venne today opposing the middle school referendum. He closed the letter saying, “I’m standing up for the 18.5% of families in Pulaski who live below the poverty line. I’m speaking out for the one in ten families in Dublin who live below the poverty line and I’m raising concern for all of the county residents who currently struggle to make ends meet while waiting for their next pay check.” I want to close by responding to these comments from Mr. Venne directly.
If Mr. Venne is truly concerned about his neighbors who struggle to make ends meet, then I’m curious to hear if he also advocates for public policies that help low- and fixed-income neighbors of all ages. Does he support a health care system not tied to full-time employment or a vibrant public transportation system that helps people without cars to access opportunities and services? Does he support the continued funding of SNAP benefits to help low-income families put food on their tables? Or policies that forgive or otherwise limit the burden of student loans on young people just trying to get out from under the burden of crippling debt? Does he write letters to the editor supporting raising the minimum wage or providing for unemployed or underemployed veterans and their families? Does he advocate for more quality, affordable housing in Pulaski County?
These are programs and policies that substantially make a difference in terms of helping people “make ends meet while waiting for their next pay check.”
Funding an adequate new middle school will help children in Pulaski County who are disproportionately from low-income families. It will expand their educational opportunities to include career and technical education programs that could lead to jobs of the future. Who knows? It could encourage potential employers to move here, increasing the chances that their parents could get living wage jobs.
If we really care about low- and fixed-income residents in Pulaski County, then I’d say that we, as a County, can’t afford not to invest in this middle school. Doing so is going to help low-income residents substantially more than the $7 a year a low-income family might save if the county ends up renovating a crumbling Dublin Middle School instead of building a new one.*
*One estimate says that renovating Dublin Middle School will cost 87% of what a new school building would cost. For a family that owns or rents a home assessed at $50,000, that would mean an annual county tax savings of $7.