Thursday, January 1, 2009


note: I realize, after reading some of the comments to this post, that I didn't do a very good job conveying my thoughts. No, I have not changed my position regarding the need to pass the 6.9 mill levy last November, and would be advocating for its passage if the vote were being held tomorrow.

My intention was to describe my emotional reaction to actually seeing the tax bill and preparing to write the check. It was also to confess that as much as I rail about the ignorance and apathy of most Americans these days in regard to government, I let myself walk into the voting booth without having put a minute's thought into the MRDD levy - and it turned out to sizable increase.

I wrote this post because I was curious if others had a similar reaction to their tax bill. My hope is that many did, and that it will motivate more folks to help us change the fiscal management of our school district, and our community.

My apologies for mucking up the message. Thanks to those that care enough about our effort to hold me accountable.

Our property tax bill arrived in the mail today. I knew it would be bigger than last year, but was still caught a little surprised by the magnitude of the increase. Here's the numbers:

  • The assessed value of our property didn't change. Remember that the assessed value is 35% of the market value. Both are shown on your new tax statement (which I find very readable and understandable). County Auditor Joe Testa had said earlier in the year that there would be no changes made to property values in the triennial assessment. Take note that this is political position, not fact. Ask anyone who has tried to sell a home in the last year if they agree with Mr. Testa that property values haven't changed.
  • My total tax bill went up $898.66, or 12.42%.
  • Only two of the components were increased: 1) MRDD for $167.88 (34%); and, 2) the Hilliard School District for $746.02 (16.34%). In other words, 83% of the increase in my tax bill was due to the school levy.
  • The school tax was 63% of my total tax bill last year, but rose to 65% for this year. It is 1.5% of what the County Auditor says is the market value of our house.
  • The school tax went up $210.60 for each $100,000 of market value.

Why was I surprised?

I guess the MRDD increase wasn't on my radar. All these other taxes (those other than school tax) can get lost in the shuffle, but I think I would have remembered had someone said the MRDD tax was going to increase 34%. It must have been one of those "it will cost you only 50cents per day" kinds of campaigns.

But I think the real reason for my reaction is having the total increase looks a lot like $1,000/yr when you just glance at the numbers. Maybe that's chump-change for a lot of you, but having our taxes go up $1,000/yr is attention-getting for me, especially in light of the current economic situation.

What kind of reactions are you folks having to your new tax bill?


  1. Paul:

    I'm confused. You advocated for passage of the levy - what did you think was going to happen?

  2. Indeed I did advocate for passage of the levy, and my left brain still says we needed to do that for exactly the reason I stated: to give us time to regain control of our district without the kind of meatball surgery that would have otherwise happened.

    This post is about the right-brain reaction to seeing the magnitude of the increase on the tax bill. If anything, it only increases my motivation to end this vicious cycle we'll been living with a couple of decades.


  3. My residential property taxes in Hilliard are paid by escrow, so I did not receive the bill, but I am awaiting the notice from my lender that my monthly payment will be rising. And at the same time, my business is located in Columbus, and not only did many tax issues pass in Columbus, the assessed value on commercial property went up even though they held the line on residential. So I am looking at a double whammy this year, plus I have no vote in Columbus. Imagine how it must be for those on fixed incomes and those who are barely holding as it was. Hope the teachers and admins enjoyed their
    Christmas vacations.

  4. Paul,

    For someone so "in the loop" on taxation, I was a bit surprised to hear you suggest you were "tricked" by the MRDD levy ('must have been one of those 50 cent per day things...').

    And unfortunately for us(to some), I don't see the vicious cycle of taxation ending any time soon. Is there a fix coming for MRDD levies? Zoo levies? Parks/fire/township levies? In my opinion, we pay for the things we want to see in our communities. In others opinion, we vote no on any attempt to take more of our money. I know you vote yes, and are trying to change things. But many of your 'followers' are NO voters who use you as justification for not wanting ANY entity to have more of their money. I believe you personally would pay more if you thought it was needed/was being used wisely. I'm not sure many supporters feel the same way.

    Did you see on election day that people were voting no on Cemetery maintenance in some townships? Cemetery maintenance?!?! Who DOESN'T want cemetery maintenance??? That smacks of selfishness to me...

  5. Musicman:

    Not saying I was tricked about the MRDD levy, just that it this choice didn't register as very important - at least not compared to the school levy. I'm not even sure how I voted on it.

    The way I dealt with the MRDD levy is an example of exactly what I've been complaining about in regard to school levies - voting on emotion, not reason.

    I can wave it off and say that there's only so many things one can study in depth, and I choose to focus my energy on school economics. Truthful as it might be, it's still feels lame. The fact is that I cast a vote without any concern about the merits of the issue.

    How do we deal with all these complex issues as voters? I hope that the dialog I foster on this blog serves to raise awareness about school issues, and by doing so helps voters make better decisions.

    How about these other issues, like MRDD? How about all those people running for municipal and state judges?

    Goodness knows the campaign season seems to last forever these days. But when election day actually comes, it seems like there's always candidates on the ballot that I'm clueless about. I wonder if we should do something like have the terms of various offices expire on different dates. Like maybe the judges are always elected in July or something like that. Then we could concentrate on just those races.

    But I'm pretty sure that wouldn't help either. Very few show up for primary elections as it is. Almost no one would show up for a 'judges only' election.

    There's much to be concerned about in the way our democracy is atrophying. Fewer and fewer people are pulling the strings. We all bitch about it, but do little. I think maybe the younger generation is not so jaded as we Boomers are. That would be a good thing.


  6. Actually, my tax bill was pretty much what I calculated it to be. In fact, it was $2 less than I had predicted.

    While some will say that the teacher's "should enjoy their christmas vacations", I say "I hope the kids in Hilliard enjoy the quality education we are providing for them and that they will use this education to have fruitful and productive lives".

    I'm not sticking up for teachers... I'm simply pointing out that our problems are not completely tied to spending but lack of revenue. Let's not forget that we got into this mess by growth, reduction in state funding, AND costs of personnel. Yes, salaries are the one thing we can control as tax payers and a district, and we SHOULD! But I think our conversation has turned into a blame game instead of one of solution. Reduce the rate of growth! Totally agree with that! And the only way to do that is to reduce the rate of salary growth. But even if/when that is accomplished our problems do not suddenly go away. If anyone believes that a better salary structure solves our core issues, they are sadly mistaken. It is PART of the solution, and one I support whole-heartedly, but I am not blind to the fact that levies and local support of schools will only increase in time as state funding is re-distributed to poorer districts and uncontrolled growth in urban areas continue.

    I get the feeling that we believe our only mission is to restructure the salary schedule of the district. Believe me, the fight, and possible more impacting solutions, lie well beyond a slowdown in salary growth. Once that button is pushed, our tax bills will only slow.... they will not cease to expand. I think we need to re-calibrate a bit on that topic.

    This is a multi-faceted problem and one that requires many "victories", not just a reduction in pay raises.

    Again, I'll take my label as an elitist. And I hope you all remember that I have pledged to defeat further levies if the district doesn't control costs better. But I also realize that doing so is not the final answer to our problems.

  7. KJ:

    As I've said before, the motivation for this blog was the way in which our community - not just the schools - was being trashed by out of control development. That battle has just escalated with the annexation of nearly 1,000 acres for residential development by the City of Hilliard.

    But personnel costs cannot be ignored. Salaries and benefits are established via an adversarial negotiation between the School Board and the unions, with the HEA taking the lead role.

    It's clear that personnel costs can't remain on the same trajectory, but the process doesn't have to be adversarial if the dialog is started well before the contract expiration, in an environment rich with the input of the whole (informed) community.

    Most folks moved to our community to partake of a great school system, and they won't be stingy in their support as long as it looks like a fair deal for all.


  8. Paul, I know well your position and I believe you know mine. I also agree very much with your response to my comment. My intended audience was not you, but some of my respected (and I do mean respected) fellow bloggers that may, at least in my opinion, be transfixed on a narrow scope of our overall issue. Again, I do not avocate ignoring the impact of salaries on our fiscal woes... my stance on this is clear and widely known. However, as one who looks big picture, I feel it prudent to remind us all that our fight will not end with the next contract negotion season (favorable or unfavorable to the cause).

  9. KJ:

    Yep, you and I know each other's positions well, and our 'Venn diagrams' overlap substantially.

    All three of the big knobs are fundamentally interconnected and need equal amounts of our attention: a) development; b) personnel costs; and, c) state funding.

    We can't preserve our great school system by dropping our guard on any of these dimensions.


  10. Considering that Joe Testa, the Franklin County Auditor does a fantastic job at telling you exactly what each additional levy will cost you before you vote on it, there really is no excuse for not knowing.

  11. Paul,

    Please explain why you've got buyer's remorse. I just don't understand, despite you answering this question for others.

    1.) You knew what the total cost impact was

    2.) You remained a vocal advocate of the levy after knowing what the cost impact was

    I just don't understand...please know that this really damages your credibility in my eyes.

    Having kids in public school I believe that schools need to be funded well. But you gave unqualified support of the Hilliard levy when we both know just how badly our school districts manage their budgets--our tax dollars.

    Now you are regretting your support of the levy???

  12. Not buyers remorse. Not at all. Passing the levy was the right thing to do. I'd vote in favor of it again, and would advocate in the same way.

    But there was never a time when I said I would be happy paying the extra dollars, and I certainly wouldn't characterize my position as unqualified support. It's simply what had to be done to keep our school leadership from implementing cutbacks that would wrecked our district, in my opinion.

    As I wrote after the election, now the work begins. Seeing the reality of my annual tax bill going up nearly $1,000 just strengthens my resolve.

    My apologies if this post suggested that anything had changed regard what it is I believe needs to be done. It's the same three things as always:

    1. Slow the pace of residential development until commercial development catches up;

    2. Slow the pace of growth of salaries and benefits of the school employees;

    3. Fight to keep the Governor and General Assy from further reducing the fraction of our taxes that they return to us as state funding for our schools.

    Thanks for the opportunity to clear this up.


  13. "2. Slow the pace of growth of salaries and benefits of the school employees;"

    I'm finding this is a hot button for this group and obviously the school employees. Most of the friction comes toward focus on an individual's salary and benefits.

    I hope in the future it can be dealt with in the manner of "Total Budget for Salaries and Benefits", as well as understood that the growth trajectory of "Total Budget for Salaries and Benefits" cannot be sustained long term.

    If that is understood, there are two knobs toward slowing this pace:

    1. Slow the velocity of growth on individual salaries and benefits. This was started last spring with benefits reductions.

    2. Reduce/slow the number of individuals that contribute to the Total in the form of increased class size, reduced administration support or reduced class and activity offerings. This has been done in the cuts already announced and the cuts projected if the levy didn't pass.

    From a private sector perspective (taboo), it means less people compensated more, or more people compensated less. There are no other alternatives unless we realistically believe we will sustain levies every other year.

    And yes, education quality is part of the tradeoffs and certainly affected by these knobs. I would think it has more of a chance of surviving if Knob 1 is utilized more, but have a feeling it will be a slippery slope since traditionally Knob 2 has been mostly used.

    It would be great if everyone involved started with this understanding as a basis to decide on the balance between constituency revenue support, education quality and flexibility of using the two knobs.

  14. Marc, the expectation by the district and its employees is that you simply
    increase the funding at any rate necessary to continue to fund the current contracts to start with.

    You must add the pension additional contribution, projected state funding cuts, (even 3 or 4% WOULDBE HUGE)
    a new bond infrasturcture levy,
    medical contribution increase giveback by the district, more planningtime equally even more employees, and naturally another
    7% increase in the contract

    The district is going to send this huge bill, with huge levies. Our district and its employees have no clue that there is economic challenges in the marketplace.

    We have all supported levies each time and the community has done its part. I believe the community will continue to do so. Sacrifices have to be made, unfortunatly our district and its employees feel it is only the community that has to make that sacrifice. In turn they want huge increases in compensation
    no medical contribution and an increase to their pension.

    Speaking for myself and others I know we are just wondering, given the fact we pay huge increases in our medical each year, and are not getting any raises, or in some instances, pay cuts, to keep the doors open in our businesses we run
    how we are going to afford this.
    Many of us, contrary to popular belief, have cut all we can cut and we dont know where thousands in additional dollars are going to come from each year.

    good luck to you and Paul, just be careful with your kids in school

  15. Mark:

    1. Slow the velocity of growth on individual salaries and benefits. This was started last spring with benefits reductions

    Note that at the time this element was negotiated, the health insurance premiums charged by insurer to our district had been increased 30%. Therefore, even with the employees contributing 6%/8%/10% to the premium, the dollar cost to the district went up - at an increased rate.

    Since then, a new insurance deal has been negotiated that will actually save the district (and the employees) a good chunk of change. One wonders if the administrators and union leadership would have been so motivated to do this had: a) the 9.5 mill levy had passed in the Spring; and/or, b) the new union contracts hadn't had this cost sharing element.


  16. In regards to the new health plan provider, I seem to recall that the union made an issue of the past difficulties in having to deal with new providers - i.e. in network/out of network participants. I hope they realize now that this is considered somewhat normal in most of our lives and they will have to get used to it. Actually I think they WILL get used to it, and I also think they will somewhat temper their stance on salary increases. I don't like to be thought of as a "teacher-basher" although I know I can come across that way. I admire and respect the work that they do but I DO feel that they have let the union insulate them from the realities of today's workplace. The wake-up call came with the last contract and hopefully it will become the trend, not the exception. Again, it comes down to Paul's use of the word "apathy". We can't afford apathy from any of the parties in the HCSD and I hope we can operate in the future with a sense of overall community.