Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

August 22, 2013

With current spending, city is unsustainable

Greensburg Daily News

---- — Dear Editor:

I recently read the letter by Rick Fayette about non-profits being exempt from property taxes on rental properties.

Tax laws are the purview of state governments, so the local argument may be a moot point unless citizens all across Indiana agree that the law should be changed. I think the letter brings up a valid issue but misses some important points.

First of all, I submit that property taxes on rental properties should be considered a cost of doing business ... like maintenance, utilities, and insurance. Property taxes pay for police and fire protection, streets and sidewalks that provide access, and community amenities that increase the value of all properties.

By spreading the cost of service to exempt properties across the community, the loop-hole causes the public to provide financial support to non-profits whether they would otherwise support them or not. Non-profits already receive exemptions from income taxes which seems to be a fair public contribution to the non-profit mission serving the community.

Secondly, the mathematical theory behind property taxes is pretty simple: Divide the cost of government among the eligible properties to determine the rate. By excluding some properties from the equation, it increases the effective rate on all other properties. A good strategy for keeping rates low would be to include more property or reduce the cost of government.

We began that strategy in earnest in the 1980s when I was the director of the local chamber of commerce. Looking around at the many community improvements over the last 30 years, I would say that Greensburg has done well. Community facilities have improved immensely, and the quality of life has truly been enhanced. Greensburg and Decatur County were fortunate to have a forward-thinking core of leaders at the time, and the community has reaped many of the anticipated returns.

I'm wondering if the real issue is increasing the city budget or assuring that the community continues to be sustainable. Citizens and community leaders everywhere should realize that both our public and private sector economic systems have become unsustainable. They will not survive without external and outside assistance (Like grants from a bankrupt federal government. How long do you think that's going to last?) Most people don't realize what this means.

Here's an example, according to US Department of Agriculture statistics, Decatur County spends approximately $150,000 every day bringing in food from all over the world just to feed the population. Where does that money come from? ... or the money for energy, consumer goods, automobiles, education, utilities, and other needs. In total, this amounts to about half a million bucks a day or about $180 million annually just to get by, not make progress, improve the quality of life, or provide adequately for posterity.

When more money leaks out than comes in, the community is unsustainable. Moving a little tax money around here and there won't add to the long term livelihood of Greensburg. City leaders might consider taking on the greater challenge of moving toward a sustainable community where individuals and organizations don't have to be persecuted in public forums for taking advantage of privileges allowed by law.

Mark Keillor

Former resident, constant observer