Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Holmes without Watson

In a city as rich with history from every era as we are, I find it sad that a person as famous as Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., never called Norwich home. We would have been his kind of town. An Associate Justice of the Supreme Court from 1902-1932, perhaps his most famous quote is, “taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

I was thinking about those very words just the other day when my car’s property tax bill arrived marking the start of the new municipal fiscal year. I felt extremely civilized and don’t be shy, it’s okay to admit you, too, were feeling more civilized after you opened your letter from the tax collector. Maybe civilized isn’t the word either of us were thinking.

Some may feel we already had all the civilization we can afford. Listening to the mutterings and murmurings across the city was like watching a big stadium crowd do “The Wave” between innings of a baseball game.  Instead of hot dogs and pennants we had sighs of exasperation and equal parts resignation and frustration combined with mutterings and murmurings that too many confuse with problem-solving.

Bob Dylan, who’s starting to bear a striking resemblance to Justice Holmes, once said “money doesn’t talk, it swears” which is why I told my wife I was practicing my Dylan impersonation especially after I saw how my car’s value and tax rate had gone in opposite directions when I opened my bill. But because I wasn’t playing the harmonica, she was buying none of it.   

I think we all understood what was going to happen to property taxes and even why it was going to happen. However, when rates of taxation and the price and cost of municipal goods and services moves from an abstraction like a budget hearing in City Council chambers to a here-and-now dollar figure on a bill addressed to you, things get real very quickly.

I don’t think there will be footraces in anyone‘s neighborhood to get to the tax collector’s office but that’s not my point (I always wear sneakers so don't get your hopes up). No one anywhere wants to pay more taxes, even (and especially) the men and women on the City Council whose decisions about budget expenditures are what we’re unhappy about right now.

Everyone pays but everyone benefits. The system isn’t perfect but can be made better by all of us. The interlocking systems of taxation that determine how we pay for what we want and need desperately require an overhaul. Yesterday is NOT soon enough. Meanwhile.

There’s so much that happens every day as a matter of course we don’t even notice it unless or until it doesn’t. Our police keep us safe, our fire and rescue are only a moment away. We entrust our children as we always have, and will, to amazing and talented teachers. Public works takes care of more moving parts in one day than I could list in a month. 

Norwich municipal employees are professionals in every sense of the word in every agency across our city. Many are our friends, relatives and neighbors- no one is a faceless unknown “them.” This is what our taxes buy and don't ever apologize for believing we are worth every single cent it costs to live in this city
-bill kenny

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