Tuesday night’s Pocatello City Council town hall meeting gave everyone in attendance some insight into the challenges facing local officials trying to hold the line on property taxes.
City Council President Heidi Adamson explained to the audience that city officials often find themselves in a tough spot because whenever they try to decrease property taxes by cutting city services there’s a swift backlash from city residents.
Idaho’s cities such as Pocatello as well as its counties and school districts and in some cases even entities such as cemeteries and libraries rely on property taxes to provide them with the funds to operate.
Pocatello residents for example pay property taxes so the city has police and fire departments to respond to emergencies, a street department capable of maintaining the city’s roads and plowing the snow in the winter, a sanitation department to collect everyone’s garbage, and water and sewer departments to provide those essential services.
All of these services cost money, and that money comes from the property taxes we pay.
While some Idahoans earn enough money to make paying property taxes less of an issue, those state residents on fixed and/or low incomes mightily struggle with the property tax burden facing them. The state’s property taxes have gotten so high that some Idahoans are living close to or in poverty in order to pay them. The nightmare of being forced from your home because of skyrocketing property taxes is becoming a reality for many Idahoans, especially our senior citizens, who are often confronted with unthinkable financial choices such as paying their heating bill or buying food at the grocery store.
The rub is that Pocatello residents like people throughout Idaho want lower property taxes but they bristle when their elected officials, people such as Adamson, propose cuts in government services to reduce spending and achieve that goal.
Property taxes have become such a big issue that most of Tuesday night’s town hall meeting at Pocatello City Hall was spent talking about them.
The issue is equally if not more consuming in Boise where the Idaho Legislature is trying to come up with solutions.
The one plan that has gotten the most attention lately is House Majority Leader Mike Moyle’s bill to freeze the amount of money the state’s cities and counties could collect in property taxes in fiscal 2021.
Moyle hopes that the freeze would prompt cities and counties to have a real conversation about the state’s property tax problem and come up with solutions.
But the reality is that any conversation on Idaho’s high property taxes has to involve the Legislature to lead the discussion so we’re a little baffled by Moyle’s approach.
The problem really comes back to what Adamson said at Tuesday’s town hall meeting.
If Idahoans want to pay less money in property taxes, they need to accept cuts in government spending, which translated means cuts in government services.
The property tax problem facing Idaho won’t be resolved by replacing those taxes with other taxes or shifting more of the tax burden from one group to another. Rather the solution is a matter of reducing government spending.
If Pocatello residents want a big property tax reduction, they need to accept a reduction in government spending that will reduce city services.
This could mean a smaller public transportation system, a cut in hours at city offices so fewer employees are needed, less road upkeep and snowplowing, less frequent garbage pickup and whatever else Adamson and her fellow city officials can come up with to cut your property tax bill.
If Adamson and the current members of the City Council can’t sufficiently reduce your tax burden, you of course have the option of voting them out of office.
When it comes to reducing your property taxes, the solution is clear.
But getting there appears to be the tough part.
Perhaps the problem isn’t our government as much as it is the rest of us who don’t understand that government services cost money.