Saturday, July 26, 2008

21--and yet no one wins

My wife and I read two different papers on Sunday. She reads the more hometown of the two, though 'hometown' is a relative expression only because it's published (=assembled) in Norwich while I read the other paper that hers makes look like the NY Times.

There was a story in my paper about the dropoff in conveyance taxes and its impact on local government. If you live outside CT, an over-simplified explanation: a conveyance tax is basically a surcharge that municipalities are permitted to extract when properties within their boundaries are bought and sold. There is no county government to speak of here in The Nutmeg State and we're all big fans of 'home rule' which is local and successful, of course, unless (and until) confronted with basically every challenge that has popped up in American society since Ike was elected President. Turns out home rule cannot solve global problems and doesn't do too well with regional ones either.
The conveyance tax is a sort of bribe (we prefer 'additional revenue source') so that local governments keep quiet, otherwise the state legislature won't renew the law, as they did earlier this summer, to the anger and annoyance of Realtors who argued, with some force and a great deal of logic, that as the economy headed south, making the cost of homes MORE expensive by adding another tax was like drilling another hole in the bottom of a boat to let the water out. Luckily, many of us believe we can walk on water (you've seen us drive, right?) so the Realtors have the comfort of knowing they're right but are still wrong.

Anyway, the times they are achangin' and the cash registers are not quite aringin' the way they did in months and years past. Two years ago, Norwich took in over 960K --this past FY, 620. When our incomes take hits like that, we adjust our appetites--but we both know that's NOT how governments at any and all levels work, so we can guess what will happen next (and in many instances already has) which will cause a larger and faster Diaspora than we are seeing across old growth areas in New England.

Which brings me to the story, that wasn't actually a story, in my wife's newspaper. She counted twenty-one public notices of foreclosure in the newspaper. This is a Sunday newspaper in a small (nearly minuscule) market where the paid circulation and news stand sales don't even approach thirty thousand copies. Please don't get me wrong--foreclosures are NOT the problem, they are a symptom of a larger and more systemic problem one that will NOT be solved by local municipalities be they Norwich, Connecticut or New York City, New York. This time, size really doesn't matter because it is not good news for anybody, buyer or seller, Cinderella or Rockefeller. Meanwhile, we read everyday about local and regional leaders outlining what I always call ham sandwich plans ('if we had ham, we could have a ham sandwich--and if we had some bread, as well of course') and set ourselves a plate as well.

It's not really that funny when you're the punchline of the joke. Especially when you think how close Norwich is to the two casinos and how many 21 dealers each of them employ. We know the cards are worn and a fresh deck should be called but none of us want forgo our deal to make that happen. Our luck could change at the turn of a friendly card. Are you sticking?
-bill kenny

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