Like a lot of you, I’ve been up to my elbows in taxes the last few weeks. But it’s not my own taxes I’m looking into, it’s yours.
A few weeks ago someone called and asked why American Falls’ property taxes were so high, and why taxing districts keep asking for bonds. I took that challenge seriously, and the result is the report I wrote elsewhere in this week’s Press.
I don’t usually comment on stories I write, and especially on stories that are running the same week as my column. But I had some impressions doing the research that might shine some insight into Power County’s and American Falls’ tax rates.
My observation is a lot of buildings in town were built between 65 and 45 years ago. While the town has grown in the last 20 years, it hasn’t grown quite as much as it did in that 20 year span. My house, and a lot of others judging by the similar houses in my neighborhood, was built at that time.
And so American Falls has become older. I would not say that American Falls is not as profitable a place as it was 45 years ago, but the economics of the community have changed, and the economy in town is not as vibrant or visible as it was then.
Improvements that were made during that previous time, like the hospital and intermediate school, need to be updated. But with different economic realities, remodeling them now is not as easy as it was to build them back then.
One of the more interesting facts I uncovered is that, last year (and many years before that), American Falls taxpayers paid the highest property taxes in the state. I asked Mayor Beitia about this, and last week in his column he said I asked some leading questions, questions meant to provoke a pre-chosen answer. “Why are we paying the highest taxes in the state?” may or may not be a leading question, but it’s definitely a shocking one, one that might not be best to ask an elected official on a quiet Friday afternoon without any preparation.
But the question has to be asked. Marc’s answer was he’s doing the best he can with what he’s inherited. And he’s right; it’s certainly not his fault, or anyone else’s, that market changes over the last few years paved the road for American Falls to have the number one spot.
But what do we do about the hospital and school improvements? The same reasons exist in the community now that existed 60 years ago when these buildings were built. It’s not like the population has decreased drastically. These are needs, not wants.
Certainly local government could take some extreme measures to cutting taxes. I won’t list any here, because someone will think they are actual possibilities. But I will say that most extreme tax cutting measures would reduce the standard of living in American Falls.
Most of the people I talk to enjoy living here. I know that I do. We want to keep our community poised and ready for future growth. If that requires each of us to pay a little more to keep the community viable, so be it. It can be a bitter pill to swallow, but the payoff of a viable community is much more worth it.
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