THIS BUDGET CYCLE the commissioners needed almost $1 million more to maintain the level of service of the past few years. While I have heard several excuses as to why, I haven’t heard any that make much sense. First of all you must assume that any group of people can pay for any amount of public service they desire. Upshur County has in the past, and paid for it. It is only a matter of how much they are willing to pay in taxes.
But let’s get down to the numbers. Figures from 2011 tell us that there are 14,793 households. Each of these households represents a taxable unit. The fair thing would be for each unit to pay some form of equal taxes, as each benefits from the same roads, police protection, fire protection etc. However, over the years some of us have been smarter than some of us and twisted the rules so some of us don’t pay the same taxes as others of us. Like businesses have economic development corporations or governments that give tax money back to the business community (tax abatements).
Another is deduction. Everyone knows how to enhance a deduction on income tax. The one that is such a hindrance to Upshur County is the agricultural exemption. This deduction reduces the dollars paid in taxes to the county, city and school district by 85 to 90 percent per tax unit that claims this deduction. I am told by the appraisal office that 50 to 60 percent (maybe more, no definitive answer from the Appraisal District) of the tax units in Upshur County claim this dedication, or as the Upshur Appraisal Office term it, a “lowered valuation’; comments of this procedure would require at least another paper.
Now, to quote one of my favorite political personalities, “let’s do the arithmetic.” Let us say, of the 14,793 tax units all are enjoying 100 percent of the benefits but only 50 percent or 7,396.5 of these tax units are paying 100 percent of the taxes the other half of the taxable units pay only 12.5 percent of their taxes while enjoying 100 percent of the benefits of that tax. To make this as easy as possible let us assume the tax burden on all taxable units is $100.
Without Ag deductions: 14,793 tax units times $100 = $14,793 taxes; Total taxes collected - $14,793
With Ag deductions at 50 percent: 7,396.5 tax units times $100 = $7,396.50; 7,396.5 tax units times $12.5 = $924.56; Taxes collected - $8,321.06
This is a difference of $6,471.94 or 43.75 percent of the tax base whose taxes are being partially forgiven and not being required to pay. When doing the budget the commissioners are working with a short stick.
With permission of the taxing entities (cities, school districts and county) that support the Appraisal District this problem can be cured. Too many people have claimed this exemption that do not deserve it. It could be altered to say a 50 percent or 40 percent reduction and solve the county, school boards and small cities financial problems for years to come.
Very few people in Upshur County or any other county derive the majority of their income from agriculture. This brings to mind what mama told me, that all of us need to pay our fair share. I would add that if you don’t you should not receive the same privileges as those who do.
Delbert Burlison is a resident of Gladewater and Upshur County.