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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 4 years ago

Our view: LBK's unavoidable tax hikes


This is a first …

As this was being composed, it preceded the Longboat Key Town Commission meetings Tuesday night.

Commissioners were expected to vote on a town millage rate for the 2013-14 fiscal year on first reading. And if we were a betting sort, we would have bet commissioners would vote Tuesday night to increase Longboat Key’s property-tax rate.

Here’s the first: It pains our fingers to type these words, but we agree with the increase.

In fact, of the five options Town Manager David Bullock presented to commissioners (see attached chart), the best options are D and E. They would keep the town from digging a deeper pension hole and also shore up the town’s rainy-day contingency funds to handle a 90-day storm event.

Option E would actually do all of D, plus give the town an additional $111,275 that could be used to begin doing what must be done — pay down the town’s $27 million unfunded pension liabilities.

To be sure, none of the tax-hike options is the preferred course at all. Tax increases should be a last, desperate step. Indeed, in a world unfettered by politics and driven purely by economics, the preferred course would be to shut down Town Hall and start over. Outsource to private providers and contractors every typical service taxpayers need, except the town manager’s job and maybe one or two other managers’ jobs. Our bet — one we would place confidently in Las Vegas — is Longboat Key residents could obtain all of the services they now receive and at the same level for significantly less money than they are now paying.

Of course, the politics of scrapping everything and starting over are too great to overcome and, alas, unrealistic.

So we’re stuck with reality, which is this: It’s time to begin paying. For the next 30 years, Longboat Key taxpayers will likely be paying higher taxes than now to eliminate the town’s accumulated pension liabilities. It’s virtually unavoidable.

Sure, if you’re in your mid-70s, 80s or 90s and your income is more or less fixed, you might be inclined to say: “Don’t make me pay; let the next generation pay.” And then you would be almost as bad as the louses in Washington who have saddled future generations with debt and lower standards of living.

Let’s face it, in truth, responsibility for the town’s pension liabilities falls on the Key’s voters. After all, they elected the commissioners who granted the padded pensions. It follows the burden is theirs.

Mind you, the town manager’s millage options don’t directly address the town’s pension shortfall decisively. His Options B, C, D and E simply keep the pension hole from getting deeper. The town’s Finance Advisory Committee is preparing the next step — a long-term pay-down plan that will bring stability and predictability for taxpayers.

In the end, this year’s millage options and proposed $400,000 pension reserves are a real-estate issue. You can be sure prospective buyers are asking their Realtors: Is Longboat Key a hidden Detroit? Will future property taxes be saddled with paying for previous mistakes?

Welcome to reality. We have all known for a long time: Taxes are going up.

Click here to see a breakdown of millage rates. 

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