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Archive for July 31st, 2009

Annexation and Taxation

sprawl

Next week the City of Columbus is asking me to vote to raise my income tax by a half percent.  That’s not a huge increase in the overall amount I’d pay annually, but it does represent a 25% increase.

Over the course of nine years my property taxes have more than doubled.  They’re still at a reasonable rate and I can afford them, but a 100%+ increase is a lot.

Paying for schools, teachers and basic city services is something I can support.  Even some of the extras are nice.  Clean parks, clean river (someday maybe), adequate recreational facilities – the amenities that make life enjoyable.  I’m willing to pay for those things.

The challenge I have with the city asking me to raise my own taxes is that part of the reason we need more money to run this city is because of sprawl.  In 1970 Columbus comprised 146 square miles.  By the year 2000 the city was comprised of 220 square miles (click the photo above to see the larger map). Logically speaking, my tax dollars are now being spent to provide infrastructure to outlying areas rather than supporting and improving the existing infrastructure.

Trash collection, fire protection, police patrols – all of which require covering hundreds of square miles would be less expensive if the city served the same population within more  confined boundaries.  Roadway expansion is expensive and expensive to maintain.  Miles and miles of new gas lines, water lines and sewer lines must be built to connect these outlying areas.  At the same time, inner city neighborhoods sit idle – such as the near-east and near-west side.  Annexation has led to core neglect.

The land grab, designed I suspect to create a larger geographic tax base may be akin to gluttony.  It’s a model based on scarcity rather than abundance.  “Hurry up and get what you can before someone else gets it” rather than “let’s live well within our means”.

Perhaps the city was simply following the population trends and attempting to capture the tax revenue as it moved out.  The city could have, however, used its tax revenues to improve the existing environment as a method of preventing urban flight.

Certainly Columbus is not the only city that has attempted to use annexation as a growth formula and we’re not the only city facing financial difficulties.  Going forward, however, Columbus should stop spreading city services “out” and focus its resources on providing city services to a more centralized core.  A growth model of ‘up’ needs to be put into place.

Walker Evans makes similar comments (and states them better than I have here) at his site, The Walker Evans Effect.

I’ll consider raising my income tax by 25% if the city of Columbus can guarantee that the  additional revenue will not go to further annexation.

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