Don’t recall ever seeing it pushed front and center before, which could mean somebody at City Hall has gotten some public-relations smarts. If they know what they’ve got they sure should use it as a great counterbalance to blunt the ceaseless shouts of “No more taxes!” so loudly heard these days.
The little fact appeared to say, for those who grasped how to read it: Folks, you are getting one heck of a bargain. It was also accompanied by a clear warning that this couldn’t go on, probably not even a year longer. As Commissioner Jamie Doss, head of the city’s bean-counting panel, put it: “The challenge is, the city has been doing so much with less for so long. You cannot go indefinitely without investing in yourself.”
The factoid in question? For the ever-popular example of the home valued at $100,000 the monthly property-tax cost of operating the city came to $29 a month. And the Rome public schools cost $58.17 a month for the same home owner.
THAT’S A TREMENDOUS bargain if one looks at it in the most basic of ways. Could anyone out there find a 24/7 security service with firefighting capability to protect their property for $29 a month? A private school to send even a single child to that charges but $58 a month?
Let’s grant that this is an oversimplification. However, it is a relevant “rule of thumb.” It would run to similar amounts in the unincorporated (county) area although there, for those unfamiliar with some of why all this is so tricky, there are variations such as residents/businesses paying an “add on” millage rate for fire protection, which is purchased from the city. Romans don’t get it for free but for them it is just part of the lump sum.
Similarly, everyday items like water and garbage aren’t part of the property-tax equation being “extras” theoretically purchased individually and paid for through “user fees.” Or, in the unincorporated area, trash is “do-it-yourself” or an extra-cost hired service.
By the way, city residents also pay millage on their property for county functions that everybody uses, such as the courts/sheriff/jail and a ton of other things. On the basis of the same invented $100,000 home that aspect, for a Rome resident, would come to just about ... $29 a month!
AND, IN BOTH instances (city and county) it would actually be about 40 percent more were not the always-there LOST (local-option sales tax) not used, as the law requires, to roll back property taxes. On that $100,000 home, for example, the “roll back” total (city and county shares) would come to roughly $350 a year.
Another way to look at this would be that if there were no property taxes the local sales tax would have to be more than doubled; if there were no sales tax, the millage rates would have to jump perhaps 80 percent.
Again, let’s grant such a monthly breakdown number is mainly useful for recognizing what a comparative “bargain” basic local government services, including schools, are. It’s certainly not a “one size fits all” accounting. If the $100,000 property in question houses three persons, for instance, each of them is getting those public-safety services for an average of about $10 a month.
Variations can be endless. For example, a Rome resident with a $200,000 home would be paying about $58 a month for basically the same thing the $100,000 owner is getting for $29. Of course, the person in a $1,000,000 home, even paying $290 a month, couldn’t buy his own fulltime police/fire department. Nor does the business property owner get a discount for having his place sprinkled, unlike nearly all homes, or being unoccupied maybe half the day for keeping a security guard on the premises when closed.
SIMILARLY, someone in a $200,000 home is paying $116 a month to keep the public schools in Rome going ... whether sending one child, or five children, or no children to them.
Nonetheless, this is an interesting way to look at the “cost” of local government that really much better puts into perspective the big question of the times: Is what government does worth it?
And these involve pretty much the basics, not the “frills.” Indeed, it would be lovely to see identical numbers not only for the county but also state and federal operations. How much, per month, does it cost Mr./Mrs./Ms. Average and Ordinary Taxpayer to receive all the services and advantages supposedly delivered by them? What does it cost someone monthly, on a $25,000 annual salary, to keep the terrorists at bay?
Consider also that $29 average per month (from millage rates, as there are other revenue sources in use) comes to less than $1 a day. That’s probably what it costs most of us to have a cellphone on our persons in order to call the police or fire department in an emergency.
City Hall may well feel aggrieved by our emphasizing a possible new “magic number” for understanding the cost of government services instead of bragging on its really outstanding job done — and not without considerable pain — of keeping the millage rate at a flat 26.15 for three straight years in a time of falling property values and lower sales-tax revenues.
NOR, FOR THAT matter, has the county failed to do just about as well via all sorts of good lessons to have learned — such as the sheriff figuring out to reroof the leaking jail for about 25 percent of the market price.
The point is only that numbers like these that break the cost down to the month or even day for a specific area of service do a great job of “bringing home” the fact that all the local government/school functions most valuable to any community seem to generally be quite a bargain and deserving of more public support — of purse and speech — than have been encountered of late.
Government at the local level costs too much? Really? Then — oh brother! — we sure are being gouged on our monthly TV/internet bills, not to mention car and health insurance, groceries and so forth. Pretty much all of those tend to be larger.
The best “bang for the buck” any of us receive in these difficult times may come, from all places, City Hall and the County Administration Building.