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You’re paying more than you should be

Fear and Loathing in Waynesboro column by Chris Graham

I’d like to get all worked up about how great it is that Waynesboro City Council figured out a way to save stormwater despite the pressure from the ultraconservatives to delay things another year, but …

I have to say that I’m disappointed.

I’m sure you saying to yourself … Come again?

Yeah, I yammered on about how the bad guys didn’t really want to begin stormwater improvements, and now, finally, after 20 years, we’re going to see some positive movement there. I should be happy.

Here’s why I’m not. You’re still paying more in taxes than you need to be.

OK, sure, I’m a Democrat – about to be the Democratic Party chair here in Waynesboro, actually.

He shouldn’t be stoked about high taxes, Martha. He just admitted that he’s a Democrat. Them Democrats like taxes. I must be reading something wrong.

And yet I’m stoked about high taxes. And it’s because the ultraconservatives on city council for some reason think it is wise to pay for infrastructure improvements out of the general fund that is supposed to take care of day-to-day and year-to-year expenses. Pay as you go, they chant, not realizing that nobody pays for basic infrastructure needs as they go. People don’t buy cars with cash, don’t buy houses with cash. (Ahem – some of us do, and you’ll know their names from the campaign-finance reports of their cronies on city council.) We get loans, pay monthly payments, and we’re happy that we can do so, because otherwise, we’d walk to work and come home to a lean-to.

I said during my city-council campaign, and will say to the day that I die, that the only way to do these kinds of improvements that makes sense is to capitalize them. We know how much the improvements that need to be done are going to cost. Get the dollar figure, then create a funding mechanism that we can guarantee from year to year will be there to get the job done.

You do the same thing at home with your car and house payments. Say you’re paying $300 a month for the car and $1,000 a month for the house. That’s set in stone. Something comes up that you didn’t account for, too bad, so sad. You’re paying $300 for the car and $1,000 for the house. No exceptions. A utility fee does that for a city doing infrastructure improvements like what we’re about to start doing to improve our stormwater system. It gives us a set amount of money to pay for the work that we need to do to get things flowing right.

The general-fund solution, if we can call it a solution, is going to have us debating whether or not we have enough money to pay the car or house payment from year to year. Let’s say times are still tight next spring during the 2009 budget season. We’re on the hook for, oh, about $800,000 in stormwater improvements, but the only way to come up with the money is a tax increase. You can guess what the answer is going to be from our ultraconservative friends on that one, and actually, I wouldn’t disagree with them. It’s outside the realms of common sense, not to mention common decency, to raise taxes in a slow economic time.

Which means the car payment, the house payment, whatever, doesn’t get paid.

Of course, when you don’t pay the bills for a municipal stormwater-improvement project, well, it’s not like they can come and repossess the drainage pipes. It does mean, though, that the work that we’ve been saying is such a top priority once again gets put on the shelf. And the next time there’s a flood, and we seem to be due for another one sometime soon, somebody ends up having to pay the piper, and it won’t be me.

I live at the top of a very tall hill. If it floods all the way to my house, then Al Gore has problems.

And to get back to my point about how you’re paying more taxes than you need to be – am I the only person who finds it curious that city council was able to identify $600,000 in savings in the budget in two hours tonight when they’d had a hard time finding a fraction of that in the six weeks previous? Which leads me to another question – does anybody out there remember the city-council candidate who proposed paying for stormwater with a utility fee that would be balanced for the average taxpayer with a one-cent property-tax cut?

Yes, that candidate was me, at the April 22 candidates forum sponsored by The News Virginian and NBC-29.

I undersold myself there by three-fourths, apparently. Turns out we could’ve given you a four-cent tax cut if we’d done stormwater the way I wanted it done.

Which is to say, you, the average taxpayer, end up with more money in your pocket at the end of the day, and you get stormwater.

You can guess what I’m about to say here.

Waynesboro deserves better.