In the 1939 movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Jimmy Stewart’s character, Jefferson Smith, gives up on his fight before the U.S. Senate to establish a national boys’ camp and calls it “just another lost cause.”
He then goes on to say that his colleague Joseph Paine knew all about lost causes and that Paine once said, “they were the only causes worth fighting for.”
Well, dear reader, at this Thursday’s East Ridge City Council meeting that august body will consider on second reading an ordinance that will effectively raise your property tax by 25 percent. Prior to the vote there will be a public meeting and I’m told that a bunch of our neighbors plan to show up and voice their perspectives on this tax hike.
I’m here to tell you that fighting the tax hike is truly a “lost cause.”
Do you think anybody on the council dais is going to give one hoot about what you, the taxpayer, says? Oh, they will certainly give lip service to your statements. “Thank you, Mr. Doe,” one or more of our elected officials will intone. “We all appreciate you coming to the meeting,” the mayor might add.
I’m sure the city manager will come to the meeting with a carefully prepared list of why the certified tax rate of 99 cents should be raised to $1.25. What very well may be at the top of the list is that the city needs to give pay hikes to its employees in order to retain their services. Perhaps a statement will be made about the city not raising taxes in years. Perhaps there will be a mention of rising costs in everything the city buys.
Then, dear reader, the council will sit on its hands and listen as one or more frustrated taxpayers comes forward to speak in public, something that is at the top of the list of major phobias in many psychological studies. The speaker, if they are anything like me, will stumble through reasons why this tax hike is not right. They will then return to their seat and beat themselves up for forgetting something of import they forgot to say.
The speaker might be an elderly retired person on a fixed income and doesn’t know where the extra money to pay the property tax will come from. After all, about 20 percent of our neighbors are senior citizens. Older folks are much smarter than many people think. I speculate that after 35 years of fighting city hall, they will have given up. They realize showing up at a public meeting is useless. They’ve done it before, got no results and went back home to be good taxpaying citizens.
The speaker may be a young, idealistic mother or father whose family recently closed on a 70-year-old three-bed, two-bath home in one of our established neighborhoods at a bargain basement price of $260,000 – the median price of a home these days in Hamilton County. Adding an extra hundred bucks to the escrow on the mortgage ain’t no great shakes to them. “You get what you pay for,” right?
Well, that’s the problem as I see it. The taxpayer will most likely not see any improvement in city services resulting from the tax hike. It will be business as usual in East Ridge with just more money floating around to spend on parks and recreation at that jewel of a sports complex across the interstate; more money to buy equipment and mow the grass at the I-75 interchange at Exit 1 and Camp Jordan Parkway; more money for the streets department staff to sit around and not clean out clogged storm drains that only exacerbates flooding in our flood-prone city; more money to buy yet another garbage truck or boom truck to cruise around city streets – back and forth, back and forth – on routes that make no sense; more money to buy back employee leave time accumulated on the books that auditors warned 10 years ago could bankrupt the city if something wasn’t done.
What you won’t see is any movement on that city-owned hulking albatross that was once McBrien School. You won’t see McDonald or Hilton Roads or any dozen of our cratered city streets being resurfaced. No, but in May the council amended the existing $1 million contract with Talley Construction to the tune of $365,000 to add sidewalks and repave N. Mack Smith heading into the Red Wolves development. Gotta make sure we accommodate the 2,100 people who go to the soccer match. To heck with the 21,000 residents.
What’s the likelihood that the new and improved Pioneer Frontier or a dog park is completed in this budget cycle? For that matter, what’s the likelihood ground will be broken on the multi-modal project that is promised to breathe new life into the business district on the west end of Ringgold Road? I wouldn’t hold my breath.
The biggest reason that the tax hike must pass is that the city manager prepared the 2021-22 budget with increased spending which counted on more revenues. He sold it to the council and if it is to be a balanced budget – not like the two previous years in which there was what city officials call “planned deficit spending” amounting to $1.4 million – the tax hike is essential.
So, know this if you intend to voice your opposition to the tax hike at Thursday’s council meeting: It’s a lost cause. But as Jefferson Smith said, “they are the only one’s worth fighting for.”