Tuesday is a day everyone who is a property owner should take a second to reflect on what we are paying taxes for and how it is being spent.
It is the day that — if you have not paid your first installment for your 2019-20 secured tax bill by 5 p.m. —you will be slapped with a 10 percent penalty.
I get that taxes are a necessary evil. Without them we wouldn’t be complaining about potholes because we’d be spending all of our energy making sure we do not get stuck in mud. Government provides services for the common good that we can’t afford to secure individually such as wastewater treatment systems, clean and dependable water supplies, solid waste collection, and enforcement of laws that are needed to maintain civility given we all aren’t Leonardo DiCaprio and can buy our own little island where we live by our own rules.
I like what taxes can provide. However, I’m not as far gone as the Michael Bloombergs, Warren Buffetts, or Bill Gates of the world. They proclaim they aren’t paying enough taxes and argue for higher tax rates yet you don’t see them writing an extra check to the government. What you do see them do is what a lot of us do which is donate to various charities. The reason is simple. We trust chantries to deliver certain services to those in need much more effectively and efficient than if we entrusted a government agency to do the same thing.
I get that taxes can do a lot of good. I also get they can be burdensome for many, if not all of us. I also know that a good chunk of tax dollars are squandered through inefficiency, half-baked execution, and a long list of other reasons. I expect those that spend my tax dollars are held accountable and that the money I pay is spent wisely.
It is why I’m going to take stock of what the Manteca Unified School District board is asking of voters on the March 3 ballot. They are asking that at least 55 percent of us approve a $260 million bond measure to continue modernizing schools both in terms of structure upkeep and configuring them for changing educational requirements.
To those that rent and think that they have no skin in the game, guess again. The price you pay in rent includes property taxes that the owner of your house or apartment pays. You can argue that you get hit worse than a property owner given it is rare that a landlord that sees a $300 annual increase in their tax bill only passes on $300 in the form of a higher rent charge.
First you need to have a clear understanding of what is at stake.
My 988-square-foot home built in 1953, for example, has an assessed valuation of $216,652. I paid $189,000 for it in 2008. I converted to a 15-year loan and got rid of my mortgage insurance premium in 2015 when my house appraised at $245,000. The market value — depending on which real estate guess-a-home-value website you check — is between $283,000 and $300,448.
What only matters for what a bond issue will cost you is your assessed valuation.
The MUSD bond measure, if it passes, will cost $60 per $100,000 of assessed valuation. That means my tax bill will go up $129 a year.
Right now I’m paying $2,392 in taxes. That breaks down to $2,166 in basic property taxes, $209 to pay off bonds, and $15 in special district taxes such as mosquito abatement.
There are two Manteca Unified bonds — Measure G and Measure M — among that $209 I pay. Your tax bill lists three MUSD bond payments but two reflect two separate issuances that make up the same bond that Measure G authorized. Altogether my current share of the MUSD bond repayment is costing me $166 a year. The $43 balance is for three Delta College bonds.
As for the $2,166 I pay in basic property taxes, 51 percent or $1,086 goes to Manteca Unified to operate the schools as opposed to the $166 I pay for school facilities. The City of Manteca gets about 17 percent or roughly $401. San Joaquin County takes about 24 percent or $574. The rest is sent to agencies such as South San Joaquin Irrigation District and Delta College.
Once I have a grasp of what it is costing me, the next thing is to answer several basic questions:
*Are the projects the MUSD is asking bond money for justified and needed?
*Does it protect the investment that I and the rest of the community have made over the years in a manner that makes sense?
*Can I afford it?
There are easily 60,000 property owners within the MUSD boundaries that essentially have an investment of $2 billion in school facilities. Granted the bulk of that was by those who owned the property before those that currently hold title. But the value of property reflects its location and what amenities, services, and public investments are available.
If you doubt that ask yourself why a parcel at Daniels Street and Airport Way in Manteca just sold for almost $1 million an acre while land outside of Fallon, Nevada, can be bought for $1,000 an acre.
Schools do add value to a community and specifically to property.
And just like a house, schools need significant investments as they age as well as modernization. Also keep in mind you may have two bathrooms for a household of four while an elementary school on any given day has 800 or so people using bathrooms. If you’ve ever remodeled a bathroom the cost can easily push $20,000. Just imagine what the cost is for a 40-year-old school.
What goes inside those school walls is important but keep in mind a school bond is to the schools what major improvement projects such as roofing, air conditioning, fence replacement, remodeling, re-wiring, drainage issue corrections and such are to a home.
You have a household budget for day-to-day needs just like a school has a general fund for what goes on inside a classroom and what is needed to support it.
You also need to decide if the school district has been good stewards of the money taxpayers invested in bond projects.
The five latest examples are Shasta, Lincoln, Golden West, Lathrop, and Sequoia schools.
Whether you can afford the extra money — in my case $129 a year — depends upon your situation. Even if it is dicey keep in mind only 55 percent of the voters favoring the bond issue have to say yes.
And while my additional cost would be $129, somebody with a home they just bought for $500,000 and are much likely to have school-age kids would be on the hook for $300 more a year in taxes.
Whether to support a bond issue is a serious question that we need to weigh. Most of us aren’t flush with money meaning it does proponents no good to dismiss concerns of the price a bond would cost people as being “no more than a Starbucks latte” as they offered up during the last bond election.
Don’t simply support or dismiss it outright. You need to at least have a clear understanding of what value you are getting even if you historically automatically vote either yes or no.
You don’t write a check for a home improvement project without having a grasp of what you are getting, the benefits you’ll derive from it, and what it will cost you.
A vote on a bond issue is no different.