Palm Beach County Commission sucking the blood of taxpayers

You can see the elephants coming, but it’s the mosquitoes that will eat you alive. Locally, there are thousands of little mosquitoes in the county budget that, in the aggregate, end up sucking the financial blood from the taxpayer. A thousand little bites can kill fiscal responsibility in government just as dead as a few big bites.

Last week, the mosquitoes were swarming. The County Commission, voting 4-3, raised property taxes again this year, the third year in a row. In this three-year period, which featured a recession, record numbers of home foreclosures, a mortgage meltdown and credit crisis, and a stock market cut in half, the County Commission increased our taxes by over 26% compounded.

It’s OK to murmur a colorful and censored remark against Commissioners Aaronson, Santamaria, Taylor, and Vana for making your wallet thinner. The commissioners who voted against the spending increase were Abrams, Burdick, and Marcus. But by slashing road projects instead of handouts to various community groups, the commission eliminated some private-sector jobs, hurting recovery in the local economy.

The most important number in last year’s county budget was not even mentioned in this year’s debate: $92,550. That’s how much the average Palm Beach County employee earned last year in salary and benefits. The earnings figures for the average private employee in the county vary with the source, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that in 2009, the last year for which I have figures, the “Average Annual Wages” in Palm Beach County were $42,172. You can bet that the county’s $92,550 number will not decline in future years. No wonder we will never enjoy any meaningful cuts in property taxes, unless the County Commission grows a backbone.

It doesn’t really matter whether you think this level of compensation is too high or too low for government employees. What these numbers mean is that there will be no tax relief if the numbers stay this high. And there is insufficient political will on the commission, where too many members have become part of the Political Class, to do what’s right for the taxpayer and lower the burden.

Why do we allow ourselves to put up with this? It’s plain that the people the commissioners listen to most are in the parade of groups with outstretched hands grabbing for government money, county government employees, and the bleaters for expanded government entitlements. Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher even chimed in back in June, wanting more “compensation” money because the length of time for early voting was shortened. Huh? How does that work? How does shortened time translate into the need to spend more money for equipment, infrastructure and overtime?

Meanwhile, the people most hurt are homeowners and businesses. And when business is hurt, the damage reverberates to the community. Because the harm is to them, their families and their community, business leaders have a keen interest in the positions that politicians take on matters of fiscal responsibility, government budgets, and taxation. And most of us have long memories.

From the vantage point of business, we provide the WD-40 that keeps the economy and job growth oiled and ready to roll– but only if government does not muck it up by creating a business climate in which we suffocate and lose incentive. WD-40 lubricates, protects, and stops squeaks, but it doesn’t work against government intrusion.

John R. Smith

John R. Smith

John R. Smith is chairman of BIZPAC, the Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County, and owner of a financial services company.
John R. Smith

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