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Paying taxes not same as paying for cost of service
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“I pay taxes.”

Those three words hurled at bureaucrats and politicians are designed to make it clear that the speaker believes they have paid for government services and therefore should get them.

Here’s the shocking news. Everyone pays taxes. Bureaucrats. Renters. Illegals. Kids buying candy. The homeless (a lot of them do have jobs) checking into a motel room for a few days. 

But the people who like to remind people that they pay taxes are more often than not referring to property tax. Again, a lot of people pay property taxes indirectly from tenants when they make monthly rent payments to consumers who purchase items that have the cost of property taxes paid by the manufacturer, shipper, and retailer collapsed into the price they pay at the cash register.

For argument’s sake, let’s just focus on homeowners.

Those three words — “I pay taxes” – are often uttered when the speaker isn’t getting satisfactory results whether it is in terms of what they believe should be adequate police staffing, street maintenance, park upkeep, and such.

I pay $1,400 a year in property taxes. I bought my home in 2008. A neighbor across the street bought their home in the 1980s and pays $250 less a year than I do despite living in a bigger and newer home. I’m not complaining about Proposition 13. I voted for it and still support the concept for owner occupied residences.

That said someone near Woodward Park that just recently bought a home for $450,000 are paying $4,500 a year in basic property taxes. Does that make them entitled to better government services than my neighbor or me?

No but if they are paying specific property taxes for neighborhood park maintenance and such they definitely are entitled to the park upkeep they pay for.

But when it comes to general municipal government from public safety and streets to parks property taxes don’t get you very far.

Manteca gets roughly 12 percent of every dollar assessed on homes and commercial property when it comes to general property tax. The rest goes to schools, community colleges, and special districts.

My neighbor pays the city $138 a year in city property taxes, I pay $168, and the Woodward Park guy pays $540

If the “I paid for it” argument flies, then my neighbor is entitled to 2.37 hours of police service, I’m entitled to 2.89 hours, and the Woodward Park guy 9.3 hours. That’s because it costs at least $120,000 a year to put the lowest paid officer on the street when straight pay, health benefits workmen’s compensation, and retirement are factored into the equation. That comes to $58 an hour.

Use all of the hours you “paid for” and that leaves you with nothing for fire service should you have a heart attack, libraries, parks, street work, and such.

The fact property taxes don’t pay for much of what basic services citizens require and demand is why cities aggressively go after sales and others taxes. It is what drove the deals with Poag & McEwen to land Bass Pro Shops and Costco. It is what is spurring the Great Wolf Resort deal.

In the case of Costco, Manteca gave up a share of sales tax for a set period of time that Costco collects to prevent it from being collected in Modesto and Tracy when Manteca consumers shopped at Costcos stores in those cities.

As far as Bass Pro and Great Wolf, it is giving up part of taxes that the city would never have had in the first place and doing so for a limited period of time.

Street work in Manteca is heavily dependent on gas tax and Measure K sales tax. Those that drive more and do so in cars that get relatively poor mileage under the “I-pay-taxes argument” should have better maintained streets than those that drive less.

If you want an example of paying for the share of government services you use, go to your municipal utility bill.

Between myself, my neighbor, and the Woodward Park guy we all pay $519.60 a year for sewer. If we all get by with the smallest garbage Toter at 32 gallons we each pay $237.48 a year. And if we use no more than the base rate for water we each pay $205.80 annually. We generate more garage, we pay more. We use more water, we pay more. You obviously can’t have pure user fees for public safety or street use.

Note that the Woodward Park guy pays more for sewer service than for city property taxes while my neighbor and I pay a fraction in property taxes compared to what we fork over to make sure our toilets flush and there are no health issues or polluted water created due to our bodily functions.

The way we tax is indeed convoluted. But having said that would you be willing to chuck all other taxes in favor of property taxes simply to maintain the status quo? If you did, it would require a minimum tripping of everyone’s city property tax bills. 

You have to pay property tax to keep your house but you don’t have to dine out and pay the sales tax slapped on the check. Sales taxes are arguably the most fair of all taxes.  You buy a $1.1 million yacht you’re going to pay close to $100,000 in sales tax. But a $400 kayak and you’ll pay $36 in sales tax.

People shouldn’t expect a certain level of service simply because they pay taxes.

What they should expect, however, is for elected leaders and municipal workers to spend taxes in the most effective and efficient manner possible.