Weeds: The horrors of a property tax freeze

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If you’re easily frightened, I strongly suggest you close your browsing window — now. This story will get terrifying quickly. 

As members of the Idaho House of Representatives prepare to vote on legislation to provide property tax relief to Idahoans, local government officials are out in force trying to kill the bill. 

And the stories they tell are horrifying. 

Here’s where it gets ugly. I warned you. 

This morning, Gretel Kauffman, a reporter for the Mountain Express, detailed what the property tax bill, a one-year freeze of property tax budgets for most local taxing districts, would mean for cities and counties. 

Wrote Kauffman: 

In Dietrich — one of the district’s smallest cities at about 350 residents — a freeze could mean asking volunteers to take care of some services that are currently covered by the city, such as weed control along the side of the roads, according to Mayor Deborah Moon.

The shock. The carnage. How ever will Dietrich survive? Calling the local Boy Scout troop for weed control is out of the question, I guess. 

Mayor Moon’s comments come just days after the House Revenue and Taxation heard discussion on the controversial legislation. A parade of local government officials testified before the committee, detailing the supposed woes, devastation, and destruction a property tax budget freeze would bring. 

Like Kauffman’s coverage, most journalists have focused on the needs of the government over the needs of the people who pay government’s bills. Sure, a story here or there has mentioned the taxpayer, but near-tears local government officials’ have received the most attention-grabbing, favorable headlines in recent weeks. 

Throughout the past few days, the Idaho Freedom Foundation has collected hundreds of stories from taxpayers who are worried about continued property tax increases. These hard-working men and women have shared their stories with us to show just how harmful property tax hikes have become. 

I’ll share two stories, beginning with this, from Jim of Twin Falls. In his words:

We’re in our 60s. We are both retired and are native Idahoans. My wife has some serious medical problems with her medical expenses and prescription drugs out-of-pocket expenses and insurance premiums exceeding $11,000 per year. Added to that is my medical expenses and insurance premiums we pay well over $12,000 per year. I am not exaggerating. My wife receives a little over $900 per month in Social Security so her medical costs take up at least 2/3 of her monthly benefit. If I die she will not be able to live in her home because her property taxes will take up another $100.00 plus dollars per month.

Tracy from Kootenai County shared her predicament. She wrote:

The tax rates are skyrocketing and out of control. Please freeze it!! Right now, I pay more in property tax per year than mortgage interest. The rates in Kootenai County continue to increase! My husband and I are being taxed out of our home!! We are on a fixed income and my husband has a disability retirement that just cannot keep up with the increased tax assessments. This needs to stop now before the public puts together an initiative to get on the ballot to take back the control of the continued, outrageous government spending!

But remember, folks, pass a property-tax freeze and the weeds won’t get picked! Weed control is way more important than helping people stay in their homes.

Of course, cities and counties could examine their budgets to find places to save money. That way, more people  could stay in their homes and those terrible weeds would get cleaned up. Other cities could be innovative about reducing their spending. 

For example, Caldwell could cut its yet-to-be-built $2.4 million fair center. 

Boise could cut its $190,000 to replace newspaper boxes downtown. 

Or, Rexburg could shutter its waterpark that loses money year after year. 

Or Idaho Falls could decide not to spend $600,000 on wayfinding signs downtown. 

Maybe, just maybe, governments — and journalists — could put the taxpayer first for once.