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I'm the Local Gal in Richmond, Indiana, exploring my hometown and heart. I write about all thing local, sometimes global. It's a small world after all.

Friday, April 10, 2015

"All Your Tax Base Are Belong To Us" or "Tax Abasement and Tax Abatement"

"Two things are certain in life death and taxes."
~Defoe, Franklin and possibly Christopher Bullock, less notably Edward Ward~

Is anything more confusing than tax abatements? I first became aware of tax abatements in 2012, the year I started caring about what the local paper had to say. I didn't know what they were so I popped into Morrison Reeves Library and read through as many articles with the words tax abatement mentioned that the librarian could find. I still wasn't sure what they were but I saw that city council was voting them through on a regular basis for all sorts of businesses. Obviously I know what taxes are, I pay them. Abate is a middle school level word I knew too, but there's something about business and finance that can take familiar words and float them in a fog of unfamiliar context, at least for someone who was not and is not likely to be a business major.

Tax Abatements are a common economic tool wielded by communities across the United States. Locally businesses that add or retain jobs are given a period of time (usually 8-10 years) when they are not held to taxes that they would normally pay on real estate or improvements. Before anyone gets huffy, know that businesses still pay other taxes so it's not a 100% scott free thing. However, tax abatements are still controversial, especially for cities such as Philadelphia where they are facing serious budget deficits due to their shrinking tax base. If you follow the Philly news, you'll know their situation, though on a grander scale seems strikingly similar to Richmond's own struggle for healthy city finances. Philly's nonprofit hospital and nonprofit universities have gobbled up real estate and left a deficit where taxes were once collected many moons ago.

Is Richmond in the same, albeit smaller boat? Much real estate in our area is held, as in Philadelphia, by tax exempt properties including but not limited to religious institutions, university as well as health care facilities. In a March article concerning Reid's announced changes to their pediatric center, Town Board President, Ernie Hendricks, voiced concern about Richmond's tax revenue. Hendricks requested that the city in conjunction with Reid Hospital consider extracting a sum from Reid to in part make up for the city's lack of taxable properties. From the Pal-Item article, I gather that at least half of our tax revenue once came from privately owned medical businesses. Now those businesses are almost exclusively Reid's, and Reid is tax exempt and seems highly unlikely to pay any funds to make up for the city's losses.  Reid CEO Craig Kinyon argued against paying any amount, citing their provision of jobs to the community, as well as community grants.

Now nobody loves taxes, but we all love smooth pavement (and sailing!). The forms are irritating to deal with- and a lot of people get nervous even if they have nothing to fear from the IRS, just as drivers who see a cop on their block all slow down in unison. No matter how you hate taxes they are certain in life and vital to the community. Without a healthy tax base you cannot have smooth roads, maintained infrastructure (sewage overflow alert used to be a permanent button on our city website!) or effective schools and libraries. If you do not have smooth roads, maintained infrastructure or effective schools, you end up quite desperate and companies are less likely to want to do business. It's one of those unhappy feedback loops I guess. And it's not really a good solution, when you only see fit to remove the public sewer overflow alert button. It doesn't stop the stench after a hard rain, just saying.

I wonder what the statistics are for home ownership in Richmond and the greater county? What is the dollar amount of tax revenue lost due to Reid's acquisitions? How have tax abatements contributed to our dearth of financial health? Have we been almost consistently too quick to abate? What are the real numbers behind our shrinking tax base?

Can we as a city and county, encourage home ownership in addition to working with sizable nonprofits in establishing PILOT funds to fix our cash problem? What other solutions, aside from grant seeking and belt tightening are we missing?


the Local Gal


Friendly Reminder: Did you file your taxes? ;)

Philadelphia Business: Can Improved Tax Collections Solve City Financial Crisis
Pal-Item: Reid Outlines Changes in Facilities

Friday, January 23, 2015

Why I am Fine with Paying Library Fines

"Your library is your paradise." -Erasmus

There are few cases in which being disorganized or not on time makes me feel good about myself. Honestly, I can only think of one particular case, which happens to be reoccurring.

I am notoriously bad at returning books to the library on time. There have only been one or two times that the library charges were off. Once a book was returned, reshelved but not properly checked in. That actually happened twice. Did I get miffed? A tad bit, but it was resolved swiftly when I produced the book that had been declared missing. It was several spaces out of place on the shelf and the librarians were just getting used to a computer system. The librarian was cool about it. Librarians are cool, as a rule, I think.

I take the books back. I do. Other people might want to read them, even though most times it seems to me that I am checking out very old books or very niche books that to my knowledge have never had a waiting list. I brought them home, as a young person, in tall stacks. I have been known to rack up fees in the double digits. I am talking about numbers in the tens place! Not a nickle, not a dime, not a single dollar! I pay up. I pay up happily.

Richmond, Indiana has several libraries. There are small libraries in our schools, campus libraries, even a few churches have libraries. Between my husband and I, we have quite our own library, but the public library is my special favorite. I remember going to Morrison Reeve's Library with my dad. I remember staring down the antique spiral staircase on display in the lobby and making myself dizzy. I remember the imposing portrait of the founder, the colorful displays in the children's library. I even remember the voice of the children's librarian as I filled out my first library card. I had the same library card for years. I did not get a new one until I was a teenager. It made me embarrassed to see the terrible signature of a six year old unaccustomed to signing and unaccustomed to such a formal strike of individuality and independence. Was it the first time that I felt like my own person? It seems likely. Now that I am older, I wouldn't mind still having that dog eared, beige card and I would not feel so embarrassed though I have a crisp, white one with a more careful cursive signature in my wallet today.

The libraries always impacted me through the books that were chosen to grace their shelves and by the experiences I had through our special lending systems. The first time I lost a school library book and the burning shame I felt upon discovering it on our family shelf, too late. Was I now a thief? The time a young girl held the bar open for me at the exit, and I got my first and only (thus far) black eye. Ah the perils of an avid early reader! The time I was terribly bored in the RHS library and discovered a very old book that helped foster my love of etymology. Every time a librarian ever shushed. The smell of the books, the dust jackets, the millions of lives I feel that I've led personally and the millions of endings I have grieved over in books. The feeling of care when carefully preserving a text and hopefully returning it so that it will be there again, not just for me but for every member of this community. Immortality is unattainable, but one can at least taste it in books.

Many years later I discovered other gems, first Lily Library on Earlham campus followed by IU East's library. I loved to study at Lily. I loved the newness of it. At MRL, I always seemed to gravitate to the same sections. I know the map by genre and subject. At Lily, all of the books and all of the layout was new. It was where I discovered philosophy. Seeing Des Cartes, Nietzche and Spinoza lined up- such strange names, not knowing how to pronounce them and the difficulty of trying to absorb them all and yet being magnetized again, believing that if I could just retain and know pieces it would be better than not ever trying. It was where I soaked up history, I recall stories of monks leaping from balconies as crowds of the religious cram inside a building to view perhaps the toe of a saint or a fragment of the cross- not even standing room only at such an event! I remember turning summersaults and picnicking on the lawn outside, after hours of poring over books and combing for details. IU's library experience was much more utilitarian, as I only used the library as needed for assignments. Maybe to find a textbook for class- always indispensable and there when I needed it.

Each library is special in its own way. But MRL is the first for me.

Have you ever been to a community that has no public library? I have, and where there is no public library there is a strange emptiness that I could not live with there. So when I bring my books in, often late, we happily pay a fee because our library has always been there for me and today it is there for my children, as it should be. And we remain ever thankful and grateful that knowledge at a library is free.