When things don’t add up

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By Pamela Brownstein

I don’t pretend to be an expert on taxes and governmental finances. Millage rates, fiscal year budgets, these sometimes go over my head, but I would like to think I have a basic grasp on spending and the role of the taxpayer.

Many actions recently taken by the city of Beaufort make me question if funds are being used effectively, especially the project to replace lamp posts downtown. It seems the “candy cane” lamp posts are expensive to fix and maintain. Why wasn’t this addressed when they were first purchased? But now that new ones are being installed, I hope they will find better placements. Have you ever tried to push a stroller down Charles Street? It’s difficult because the lamp posts take up so much of the sidewalk.

Between the costs of the Office of Civic Investment and the recent selection of a private developer for the marina parking lot, it feels like there are a lot of unanswered questions when it comes to public involvement and the transparency of public dollars.

Add to that the county offering to pay $850,000 for a machine that would attract private businesses, in a deal that may or may not pan out at this point, and it only fuels my skepticism.

I guess the dollar amount of these projects wouldn’t have bothered me so much if I hadn’t just received a bill in the mail for my property taxes. Under the county’s recent property reassessment, the value of my house has dropped more than $20,000 since I bought it in 2004. (It seems odd anyway that the price of my house has gone down when the safety of the neighborhood and the condition of surrounding homes have only improved, but that’s another story.)

OK, fine, I understand it’s a difficult real estate market since the recession and many people’s homes were affected during the reassessment. It sucks, but I can accept it. What I’m having a much harder time accepting is the fact that while the value of my house has decreased, my taxes this year have increased by more than $100. What?

I also understand that my tax bill is not directly linked to city or county projects, but putting them all together creates an interesting dichotomy, one that I find frustrating and frankly makes me lose a little faith.

Like I said, I’m not an accountant or a financial expert, but when I hear about local governments spending (or some might say wasting, but I won’t go that far) taxpayer’s dollars on projects that deserve more transparency or were not managed properly from the beginning, sometimes it just seems like things don’t add up.