First and foremost, we don’t disagree with the decision made by the Prestonsburg City Council on Monday to not raise taxes.
Very few among us can afford an increase in expenses, particularly in an area such as property taxes. The impact of tax or rate increases on the most vulnerable among us is incalculable. For some, what appears to be a “small” increase can force big, and sometimes life-endangering, decisions.
So, we understand the thought process that led to the Prestonsburg Council’s decision to not set what is known as the “compensating rate,” or the rate at which the city could bring in as much revenue through taxes as the year before.
A request for a motion to approve an ordinance that would have increased property tax rates from 23.1 cents per $100 of assessed value to 24.5 cents per $100 of assessed value was not answered at the Oct. 21 meeting. If the ordinance had been approved, it would have also decreased tangible personal property taxes from 38.76 cents per $100 of assessed value to 36.58 cents per $100 of assessed value.
City Clerk Sharon Setser said the city would lose about $25,000 if the taxes aren’t increased. She reported that the proposed increase came at the recommendation of state officials, who recommended this rate so the city would gain the same amount of revenue as it did last year.
So, while we don’t necessarily disagree with the decision, we also must acknowledge that it comes with a great deal of responsibility on the part of the council. With less money coming in, there’s, as a result, less money to spend on providing government services.
If a government body makes a decision that results in less revenue, it must also be prepared to either find more revenue or make the necessary cuts in a planned and well-thought-out manner, so that it doesn’t impact negatively the services the people expect and deserve from the city government.
There’s another aspect that must be considered as well. There’s a very real danger that not raising taxes now will simply become a matter of “kicking the can” down the road for someone else, another council, to deal with in the future, at which time it will take a lot steeper increase with a lot more pain to make up the difference. Mayor Les Stapleton referenced this possibility during the council meeting.
Mayor Stapleton said the city has not raised taxes in seven years and he suggested that it is better to increase rates slightly now, as opposed to having to approve more substantial rates at a later date.
“Well, I will say this. We haven’t raised taxes in seven years,” he said. “I stood that ground. I stood on the same ground that you have many years ago ... What’s going to happen is, if we keep putting this off and putting this off, eventually, when we try to do it to catch up, it’s going to be substantial.”
The key is that the council not just leave this action as its final action on the matter. Making the decision to write off as much as $25,000 in revenue means that the responsibility is just beginning.