Two Cents: BREC wants to raise your taxes
Officials with BREC will meet this afternoon to consider raising taxes without a vote of the people. If this matters to you, then it would be wise to attend the commission meeting at 5 p.m. at BREC's headquarters on Florida Boulevard.
The people at BREC will argue this is not a tax increase. Instead, they will suggest that tonight's vote to roll forward the property tax millage to 14.463 mills, from 14.038 mills, is simply a way to generate more revenue from taxes already approved by voters. If approved by a two-thirds vote of commissioners, the millage hike will generate an additional $1.488 million for BREC's budget next fiscal year. BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight says the increase is necessary due to increasing costs and inflation.
The easy response to McKnight's position is that all of us, including taxpayers, are struggling to keep our financial books balanced, and perhaps BREC should look to cut expenses—and eliminate money-losing programs—rather than forcing taxpayers to dig deeper into their own pockets. The more probing response is that BREC collects higher property tax revenues every year already, so why does it need an even bigger boost? Also, why does it need a boost that is larger than the tax initially proposed?
A quick primer on property taxes: 1) A taxing entity, like BREC, decides it needs money for general operations or a specific project or program. 2) It's determined how much money will be needed over what period of time and, based off the dollar amount requested, a millage rate is set. 3) Should voters approve the tax, the specific amount of money, for example $5 million, is collected in the first year. 4) Growth happens in the property tax base every year, through the addition of new houses and businesses, the selling of property at a rate higher than its initially assessed value, or the expansion of an existing house or business, also increasing the assessed value of the property. This growth increases the amount of tax revenue collected each year. In this example, let's say the increase bumps the property revenue for that entity by $250,000 to $5.25 million annually. 5) For the same reasons as item 4, additional money is collected in year three—let's say an extra $500,000—bringing the annual collection to $5.75 million. Strictly through growth, the taxing entity is now collecting an extra $750,000 annually. 6) By law, the tax assessor is required to reassess all property in the parish every four years. Once done, the millage rates are "rolled back" so that the dollar amount generated in year four of the tax cycle is equal to the dollar amount generated, not in year one, but in year three. 6) The taxing entity then decides whether to accept this new millage rate or to vote to "roll forward" the millage to a figure that can be no higher than the rate initially approved by voters.
That's where we're at this evening with BREC. Despite tax collections increasing annually, officials will decide if it wants even more of our money. In this case, $1.488 million more.
For those, like myself, who declare this a tax increase, the reasoning is that the courts have held that the key to a property tax is not the millage rate but the dollar amount requested. To me, increasing the millage simply to generate dollars above the initial request and above natural growth amounts to a tax increase. And when the taxing entity is BREC, an organization that has exactly zero elected officials, it amounts to taxation without representation.
To be fair, the courts, using logic opposite the rulings that set the tax based on dollars requested, not the millage rate, have upheld the right of taxing entities, like BREC, to roll millage rates forward, essentially forcing all property owners in the district to absorb a tax hike.
Just because something is legal, does not mean it is right.
Instead of taking the easy way out, BREC should first look to get better efficiency from its operations. Then it should look at supporting those who look to reform a public pension system that threatens to ultimately bankrupt them—as well as the state. Finally, if that's still not enough, then these officials should put a new tax proposal before the voters and let the public decide.
In the end, BREC does not belong to McKnight or the system's commissioners. It belongs to the people of East Baton Rouge Parish. It should be left to the people—not McKnight or commissioners—to decide if BREC deserves additional operating revenue. BREC is a well-liked organization and the people may well wish to give the parks department more cash. But it's a decision the voters should be allowed to make.
If you agree, it would be wise to show up at this afternoon's commission meeting and let your voice be heard.
Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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