Thursday, July 30, 2009

If The Moyer Administration Is Our Guide, Property Taxes Need A Cap

A couple of weeks ago Mayor Moyer took the offensive against critics who say property taxes have been allowed to grow too rapidly under her administration. Due to my extensive experience with having money taken by the government, I feel uniquely qualified to rebut some of the claims made by the Mayor.

The editors noted, accurately, that the city's property tax rate was last increased in 1999 to 68 cents and that today it is 53 cents. This is a 15-cent reduction, something no other jurisdiction has achieved over the last 10 years.

The Homestead Credit is what allows the Mayor to make this goofy claim. So, the amount of property taxes you pay is calculated by the tax rate times the value of your house. If either one of them goes up, your taxes will go up. For the majority of the Moyer administration, the value of your house went up like crazy. The fact that the tax rate went down doesn't mean the city saved you any money. The reason that other jurisdictions haven't lowered the rate that much is that they limit the growth of the taxable value of your house to 2% per year, and the city lets it grow at 10% per year.

During the same period of time when property values were going up statewide, the county tax rate was going up by 2.1 cents. In fact, the county tax rate over the last 10 years - at 54 cents in 1999 after going up to 56.1 cents in 2005 - is now 1.7 cents less than the 1999 rate.

By law, a resident of AA County cannot pay an increase in property taxes of more than 4.5% over the previous year. This is due to the tax cap. Here are the collected property taxes in the city, going back to 2002, and the percent increase over the previous year:

2010 $34,536,000 (budget) 9.6%
2009 $31,489,000 (proj) 11.7%
2008 $28,190,000 12.7%
2007 $25,011,400 7.6%
2006 $23,245,060 6.3%
2005 $21,862,569 7.9%
2004 $20,248,310 6.3%
2003 $19,049,000 4.7%
2002 $18,187,380

THIS IS CRAZY! The best way to increase city revenue is to successfully lobby the state and county for more money. You know this wasn't happening because the Mayor doesn't even talk to the county executive. The next best way to increase city revenue is to increase fees because at least people can control how much they use and reduce their cost (water, sewer, etc.) The worst way to increase city revenue is to raise property taxes, because the citizen has absolutely no control over how much they are paying without moving, which is really hard to do. Look at those percentages! Remember, if we were looking at the county, none of those percentages would be more than 4.5%. Property taxes increased more in the city than in the county in every year of the Moyer administration.

If you live in the city, your tax bill includes taxes for all three jurisdictions. As the assessed property value rose, the state property tax rate went up, the county property tax rate went up and the city's property tax rate went down 15 cents. The city could have done what most jurisdictions did, and simply maintained or increased the property tax rate to really take advantage of increased value.

This is the ultimate pot-calling-the-kettle-black situation. The city took massive advantage of increased home value, allowing their assessed base to grow by 10% per year. Lowering the tax rate "mercifully" lowered the increase in your taxes to, say, the rate charged by a car dealership--instead of the rate charged by my credit card companies. In 2008 and 2009, the city maintained the tax rate in such a ridiculous fashion that your property taxes actually went up by MORE than the 10% which is inconceivably arrogant.

The editorial ends with, "Does Annapolis need elected officials who will reduce spending - or a law that does it for them?" The last statement suggests the editors have already started an argument for the city tax cap, an idea that would certainly lower our excellent AA + Bond rating, eliminate our stable economic outlook and eventually bankrupt the city. If the tax cap is their agenda then the editorial is an example of manipulation of public opinion.

I recently made the argument that a good bond rating is at least partially a measurement of the city's willingness to stick it to the taxpayers. The increase in property taxes proves my point. Contrary to what politicians might say, good finances can actually be achieved by cutting costs as opposed to always raising taxes. Hopefully the next Mayor will realize this, but since they probably won't, we need a tax cap to realize it for them.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Mayoral Debate Last Night

Paul Foer hosted a debate for Mayoral candidates last night, and you know the rule--when more than 1 candidate is in the same place, we write about it! Paul, realizing that writing about his own debate would constitute "100% bullshit", asked me to write a bit about the event. In return, I promised to keep the BS level to between 20%-44%.

All of the candidates were repeatedly invited. Six of the nine attended: Cohen, Fox, McFall, Pierre, Renaut, and Shropshire. Don't know where Cordle was. Don't know where Sears-Deppa was. Word is that Wayne Taylor was hosting his own meet and greet somewhere.

The debate was much more moderated than the recent HACA forum. Paul asked questions, either of his choice or submitted by the audience, and would interrupt candidates if they answered something that was not the question, or if they exceeded their time, or if they were "grandstanding". (Josh Cohen requested permission to grandstand, to which Paul replied "don't you always?"). The candidates were all able to practice avoiding a question when an audience member asked what they knew about "corporate memory" and "city employee hiring practices". Now, I switched from the business school to the behavioral & social sciences school halfway through college, but I have never heard of 'corporate memory'. The person who asked that question must have been some kind of consultant.

I thought the debate went well, with the first half focusing on general things, and the second half focusing on transportation. The candidates reaffirmed their positions on the city manager, and the budget woes. Regarding transportation, the general agreement was that the bus system, ADA compliance, sidewalk usability, and overall management of transportation was laughable. One could argue that Paul interjected a bit more of his own philosophy than was appropriate. One could more successfully argue that Paul has been building credibility on a wide variety of issues, and mentioned those issues to spur debate. One could most successfully argue that a bit of interjection made the debate entertaining, which is a requirement when listening to 6 people talk about the same thing for 2 hours.

Here's what I thought about the candidates' performances:

Josh Cohen:

Josh was characteristically somber and well informed on the issues. Perhaps in a reflection of his personality, he suggested that the reason the city and county haven't been able to get along is that the city has failed to approach the county in a position of humility.

Best Moment: Candidates were asked to distinguish themselves from the candidate sitting to their right, an apparent attempt to get them to attack each other. Josh was sitting at the end of the table, with nobody to his right, and Shropshire was sitting at the other end of the table. Josh got up and said "Sorry Sam, but you are not to my right". Get it? More liberal? Political humor!

Three Word Summary of Closing Statement: Development, Spending, Attitude.

Chris Fox:

Chris is looking more and more comfortable as he participates in more events. He hasn't had as much experience in political-type events, which actually benefits him at these events because he hasn't had experience lying to the public or failing to answer questions. He stuck to the platform he has been developing: let's save money wherever possible, let's bring professional city management, let's bring common sense to government: such as equipping buses with air conditioning.

Best Moment: When asked how he is different from the other candidates, he looked at the other candidates, smiled, and said "I'm the only one here who's guaranteed to be on the general election ballot". The audience laughed, as did the other candidates--certainly a nervous laughter that reminded them of their tough fight ahead.

Three Word Summary of Closing Statement: Common Sense Decisions.

Trudy McFall:

In 11th grade speech class, we could win our debates either on content or on "speaker points". I think Trudy did really well on speaker points. She smiled a lot, was engaging, and communicated her vision reasonably well. She made it a point to emphasize 2 things: her attendance and involvement in even the most laborious city meetings, and her experience running both public and private organizations.

Best Moment: "I started my business like most small businesses start--sitting with my co-founder at a desk in a small room with my entire life on the line, determined to make it work".

Three Word Summary of Closing Statement: Experience Running Organizations.

Zina Pierre:

Zina does well at these events and this was no exception. She doesn't support the city manager, but made efforts to reassure voters that accountability would be maintained under her administration. She seems to keep locals in mind, making sure to oppose the idea of moving a city ladder truck nearer to Parole, saying that seniors in a nearby 6-story high-rise would be put in greater danger.

Best Moment: When talking about transportation, Zina went on a bit of a tangent. Paul interrupted her, reminding her that the question was about her experience with the bus system. 'Our bus system sucks' was her response, and then she sat down, realizing that no further elaboration was needed.

Three Word Summary of Closing Statement: Reform, Revitalization, Reinvestment.

Gil Renaut:

Gil's style is what I envision my style would be were I to run for office. He answers the questions without a lot of flash or puff, and is able to convey vast knowledge of the issues and vast sense in approaching problems. He does well to position himself as a Democrat candidate somewhat unique from the other candidates, perhaps more conservative than his primary election opponents.

Best Moment: When talking about the city manager, Cohen said there would always be politics in local government, to which Gil responded 'I think we can take the politics out of potholes'.

Three Word Summary of Closing Statement: Bring People Together.

Sam Shropshire:

Sam was certainly the most grandiose of the candidates, offering passionate and typically idealistic justifications for his policies. In some instances he seemed to stick to his rehearsed views on general topics rather than address the specific questions, even when abruptly interrupted by Paul for doing just that.

Best Moment: An audience member asked about the Market House, saying 'how did this happen? It wasn't just the mayor...the council voted on it', to which Sam replied 'yes, there were 7 or 9 votes for Site Realty, but we were 7 or 9 unprofessionals and we didn't know what we were doing'.

Three Word Summary of Closing Statement: No Tax Cap.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Buy Local In Annapolis

Patronizing locally owned businesses is hardly a new concept. In the days before sophisticated logistical networks, 'buying local' was the only thing you could do. Today, we have the choice to buy from locally owned businesses, regional or national chains, and even multinational corporations.

Efforts to formally support local businesses have begun to surface. 18 months ago, as part of a wild environmental bill, the city suggested it should pay a premium of up to 10% to purchase locally sold goods. And just last week, the Maryland Buy Local Week was honored by the Governor with a picnic.

I found out that people who support buying local also are prone to supporting environmental concerns, and I also learned that '350' is an important number in this arena. I believe that 350 ppm of carbon dioxide is the sustainable environmental amount. The person who told me this suggested that '350' can be applied to the buy local philosophy, perhaps with each of us spending $50 a month on 3 local businesses that we would like to see stick around.

Consequently, I have compiled a list of local businesses that I like, which I will list hear--with wards--for your convenience! Any person suggesting a business that I omitted will win an imaginary prize. Note: I have to agree that the business is good, a highly subjective exercise. Note #2: All good suggestions will be added to the list below. Note #3: '*' denotes a business that, if gone, would significantly affect my personal consumer habits.

Ward 1

Sly Fox Pub*
On Pointe Dance
Ruby Salon
Luna Blue
City Dock Coffee
WRNR radio*
Chick & Ruth's
Annapolis Summer Garden Theatre
Maryland Hall (the artists)
The Big Cheese
Dock Street Bar and Grill

Ward 2

Giant Peach
West Annapolis Gallery (Liz Lind)

Ward 3

Caffe Pronto*
Annapolis Car Doctors*
Pit Boys

Ward 4

ummm...? The best I can figure, the only businesses in Ward 4 are the ones in the Ledo's/Five Guys shopping center, and, like, the car wash on Spa Rd. near the Severn Bank building. Didn't think that was ward 4, did ya'? You know what, they just added touchless washing. I'm there.

Ward 5

Wine Cellar in Clock Tower Place

There is also a butcher's shop there, and it's freeking awesome to have a butcher shop around because they are hard to come by. I've never been there, but I hope it's nice.

Ward 6

True Value Hardware (True Value is a chain but I believe they are locally franchised, plus there are only about 7 businesses in ward 6, all in that same shopping center, unless I'm wrong, which is rare)

Ward 7

Bay Ridge Wine and Spirits*
Mexican Cafe (honorary ward 7 member)

Ward 8

Davis' Pub
Lewnes' Steak House

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Imposter Attempts To Sabotage Bowling Campaign

Apparently, someone using a POP3 email server sent an email to the city clerk posing as Scott Bowling and purporting to withdraw from the race. The city clerk--who is one of the best city employees I have come across--immediately identified the false communication and notified the real Scott.

Scott's campaign sent out the following communique:

The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated:

Dear Friends, Neighbors, and Supporters:

Earlier today, a fictitious e-mail was sent to City Clerk, Regina Watkins-Eldridge and copied to various media outlets. I want to thank the City Clerk for contacting me immediately to confirm that this e-mail was a malicious hoax. Her prompt and professional attention has precluded the damage that this e-mail intended to create.

The e-mail was created and sent from a free e-mail server by an imposter posing as me (although spelling my name incorrectly twice.) It attempted to indicate my withdrawal from candidacy for Ward 3 Alderman. The e-mail was replete with punctuation, grammar, spelling, and factual errors. It is shameful that someone would endeavor to waste the Clerk's time with this nonsense, and my campaign will be working with the proper authorities to investigate the origin of this e-mail.

I want to assure the voters of Ward 3 that I remain fully engaged in my candidacy. I look forward to meaningful debates on fiscal responsibility and accountability, the proposed tax cap, comprehensive planning, traffic, safety, and the need for a Council-Manager form of government with my fellow candidates. I appreciate the bipartisan support my campaign is receiving from the voters of Ward 3, demonstrating the importance of the issues in this election.

Baltimore Sun Profiles Chris Fox

See HERE for the original article or read below for the text.

By Olivia Bobrowsky
July 19, 2009

Chris Fox landed his first job before he turned 7. He took up a paper route, mowed lawns, shoveled snow and then served hot dogs on a street corner in Washington from the age of 12 to 19.

In all those years, the 35-year-old Annapolis resident said he never wanted to get into politics.

That was before he left his stand, bounced around the hospitality industry and opened an Irish pub on Church Circle in 2002. Since then, repeatedly trekking up to city hall to fight business policies made him grow tired of the current administration.

He quit complaining in 2007 and started a petition to join the 2009 mayoral race. Five-hundred signatures later, the independent candidate is officially on the ballot.

"Our nation was founded by regular people who were mistreated by their leaders," Fox said. "We need to stand up and fight."

Although Fox's fight stems from his business grievances, his biggest issue concerns the proposed city manager form of government. He's encouraging Annapolitans to sign the petition to push forth the referendum, and said if he's elected, he'll hire a professional city manager right away.

But he clarified that it's not enough to change the title of city administrator and call it a day. If he's elected, he said he'll make sure the city manager focuses on day-to-day operations, including the budget - giving aldermen more accountability.

A city manager would have had the oversight to sidestep the Market House issue, he said. But it's too late for what-ifs, so Fox has developed a comprehensive, long-term plan for the property. He wants to divide Market House into two parts, a cold side and a hot side. A wall would separate a fresh market and deli from vendors who serve hot food.

"When you have pizza next to flowers and fudge, the airspace is never going to work," he said. A malfunctioning heating-and-cooling system led to a legal battle over the property in 2006. "I've had structural engineers look at my plan and they say it's very feasible and cost effective."

Fox urges the city to avoid a long-term deal regarding Market House until the next administration takes over. Then, he wants the space filled with locally owned and employed shops.

Annapolis' businesses come into play again as part of Fox's proposed solution to the city's public housing problem. He wants to get physically and mentally capable residents out of public housing and into local jobs through a tax credit program.

"It's not feasible for them to drive in a car to Baltimore or D.C. to go to work," he said. "Local businesses have to be part of the solution."

Eric Brown, the executive director of Annapolis' Housing Authority, said Fox's solution is "worthwhile" to explore, although it all banks on whether the city can afford it.

"The Housing Authority is looking to continue a partnership with the city with respect to enhancing affordable housing opportunities in the area," said Brown, who doesn't endorse any candidate.

In order to fund such a program, which Fox proposes would reward businesses with a one-time tax credit of $2,000 per public-housing resident hired, Fox emphasized the need to cut expenditures. For example, he said, the city's decision to spend $75,000 predicting where the water level will be in (ninety-)five years was excessive.

Still, he doesn't support the proposed cap on property taxes. He'd like to lower the taxes, if possible, but said imposing a limit is irresponsible.

"You can't handcuff local government into making necessary expenditures," he said. "What if they [government officials] have to raise taxes by a penny and they can't do it?"

All of these issues, he said, revolve around common sense, a message that's reflected in his campaign theme. If he were in office at the time, he never would have let Market House sign a 20-year lease with Site Realty, he said. And if he's ever in office, he'll make sure no business has to suffer all the little headaches he's had as owner of the Sly Fox Pub.

Joe Mack, an Annapolis real estate appraiser who has known Fox for about seven years, said Fox will serve the city well even though he's never been involved with politics.

"His lack of experience is one of his greatest attributes because he doesn't have any serious political affiliation," Mack said. "There's no room for partisan politics in a small city government."

Experienced people are the ones responsible for most of Annapolis' misfortunes, Fox said.

"We need someone who loves this town and has a good vision regardless of experience," he said. "I don't think anyone is more qualified."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Property Tax Cap!

My favorite politician is Herb McMillan, mostly because I agree with almost everything he agrees with, but also because he gives it to you straight. I once attended a campaign meeting for Herb where he was soliciting advice, and his own father-in-law told him he had to stop coming across sounding so mean! I love it.

Perpetually the fiscal conservative, Herb has spearheaded an effort to put a tax cap measure on the ballot. I originally decided to support the measure blindly, as a political courtesy. When people began debating the issue, however, I realized that some research and factual support would be necessary.

Then, a local yokel published an anti-tax-cap column in the paper, which immediately gave me a forum to broach the topic. I will first deal with the column, as well as the "the county can do it" argument, the "the county can't do it argument", and the "everybody hates taxes until they start losing services" (liberal) argument.

Guest Column: Life in Annapolis will be less pleasant if city adopts tax cap

In his 1964 acceptance speech for the presidential nomination of his party, the Republican icon Barry Goldwater made the point that the American people had made the mistake of following "false prophets."

I already don't like where this is going. In an effort to prepare myself for what I expect to be the sour tone of this article, I've poured myself a cup of grapefruit juice.

His solution was to "return to proven ways - not because they are old, but because they are true." Goldwater was talking about conservative principles, but his words could be applied to present day "false prophets" who are disingenuously seeking to apply a "tax cap" to Annapolis city's efforts to fund its budget.

This is the second mention of 'false prophets', a term used in religion to as a part of a profound belief system. Relative to the notion of false prophets, a municipal tax cap is mundane, and those seeking to apply such a cap are not "disingenuous"; but rather, "logical".

Furthermore, Goldwater's reference to false prophets, while perhaps a lesser degree of profundity then biblical prophecy, still was used to define the most essential philosophy of conservatism: the value of freedom over collectivism. Here is the context from the speech:
In this world no person, no party can guarantee anything, but what we can
do and what we shall do is to deserve victory, and victory will be ours. The
good Lord raised this mighty Republic to be a home for the brave and to flourish
as the land of the free-not to stagnate in the swampland of collectivism, not to
cringe before the bully of communism.

Now, my fellow Americans, the tide has been running against freedom.
Our people have followed false prophets. We must, and we shall, return to proven
ways-- not because they are old, but because they are true.

We must, and we shall, set the tide running again in the cause of
freedom. And this party, with its every action, every word, every breath, and
every heartbeat, has but a single resolve, and that is freedom.
The initiative is nothing more than a right-wing ploy to make it impossible for elected officials to address the needs of the city. The ''I've Got Mine'' crowd currently pushing for this misguided legislation likes to portray their efforts as nothing more than putting limits on "government waste." The truth is that tax caps end up limiting the ability of state and local municipalities to maintain a just and workable society.

It's a conspiracy! Right-wing extremists say they just want to keep more of their hard-earned money, but we know they want our society to crumble beneath our feet! I, for one, will never forget that government is wise, and will look out for my family just as well as I could if I were actually able to control my own destiny!

P.S.: rich people smell.

In a recent article (The Capital, July 6), one of the leaders of the cap movement made the point that, "If the county can maintain schools and provide public service with a tax cap, then so can the city."

Statements like this show just how out of touch with reality the tax cap proponents are with the conditions in Anne Arundel County.

Note: the "county is/isn't doing it" argument will be covered below.

First off, anyone who knows anything about our schools knows we are not maintaining them on any acceptable level. Far too many of our children attend classes in substandard conditions. In addition, the system currently has a billion dollar maintenance backlog. The county executive's consistent answer to this tragic situation has been to throw up his hands and remind everyone that Anne Arundel is "a tax adverse county."

The city of Annapolis has a maintenance backlog without a tax cap, and without any semblance of a responsible homestead credit. City property taxes are allowed to rise meteorically. Conclusion: the maintenance backlog is more a function of management than constraints of a tax cap.

When a city limits taxation it makes the rich richer but at the same time it makes it difficult, if not impossible, to maintain the services and institutions that allow communities to remain viable.
If you don't believe it take a look at California, that state is currently operating under a misguided initiative instituted in 1978. This "cap" on property taxes has forced the Golden State to deny medical care to 1 million children, cut college scholarships, shut down countless state's parks, end benefits to welfare recipients and lay off thousands of state employees.

Enough! When a city limits taxation, it makes EVERYONE richer. Every time somebody wants to lower taxes, a liberal claims that essential services will grind to a screeching halt. Police, fire, and schools are not what will be cut; instead, maybe the government will stop paying over a million dollars to fix a door. And California? California! No doubt the state is experiencing losses related to business cycle downturns, but the cuts you mention have been driving the budget deficits that are crippling California. This from an article in The Economist on July 9:
High taxes, coupled with intrusive regulation of business and greenery taken to
silly extremes, have gradually strangled what was once America’s most dynamic
state economy.

Our American Revolution was fought largely to protest unjust levels of taxation. It is also true that politicians sometimes go too far in their demands for additional revenues. People of all political stripes need to understand there are times when it is both prudent and appropriate to raise taxes.

There is also a time where it is both prudent and appropriate NOT to raise taxes, perhaps when the entire world is in recession, unemployment is at it highest level in 26 years, NOW, etc. Frustratingly, most politicians don't understand this. Even if their idea to invest or spend more is not wholly awful and worthless, they feel pressure to make their name and fully ignore the timing of what they are trying to do.

Since the age of Ronald Reagan, countless false prophets have tried to make us believe we could have both low levels of taxation and a high quality of life. Unfortunately, modern schools, roads, and police and fire services cost money to maintain.

Note to scared readers: police, fire, and roads will still exist in the land of a tax cap. Remember that a tax cap doesn't even cut taxes!!! If you listen to liberals, you might think that the money taken from you by the government is decreasing!! GASP!! Not the case...the tax cap would only limit the growth of how much they can take from you (to the lower of the rate of inflation or 4.5% per year).

Those who tell us we can have the aforementioned and still place limits on the amount of revenue a county or city takes in are living in a dream world. When politicians go too far in raising taxes the problem should be solved through the ballot box.

It's too bad that the problem of confusing newspaper columns can't be solved through the ballot box. Here is a summary of the logic of that last paragraph:

essential services + limited government = dream world. (wrong logic)

politicians who raise taxes = should be voted out. (good logic)

taxes should be controlled by elected politicians and not a statutory mandate. (implied logic that if stated would have made the paragraph more understandable, although still wrong, because politicians cannot be trusted to spend money wisely as a general rule).

In short, when it comes to solving the modern day problems in our county the financial hands of our leaders are tied. If the residents of Annapolis are smart they will avoid making the same grievous error and ensure that city leaders have the ability to raise the revenues required to allow our city to grow, thrive and most importantly maintain the ability to meet the almost certain challenges of the 21st century.

If there is anything that our leaders have figured out, it's how to raise revenues (taxes).

I'm done with this columnist from Severna Park, but if you're not, you can read HERE.

"The County Does It, So Can The City"

This argument will be at the forefront of the argument made by supporters of the tax cap. The county executive described Anne Arundel County as a 'tax averse county', and the data would probably support that. The homestead credit is 2% (city of Annapolis: 10%), there is a property tax cap (city of Annapolis: no cap), and the piggyback income tax is 2.56%, which is the second lowest of all 23 Maryland counties.

Further support of this argument lies with the fact that the city does not have schools. The city's main operating expense is labor (about 85% of the budget), and the problem of maintenance backlogs can be addressed through the capital budget.

"The County Really Can't Do It"

Opposition to the tax cap argues the point that the county really can't sustain a tax cap. County budget officer John Hammond acknowledged that a "fair criticism" of the tax cap was the hardship it placed on keeping up with repairs, particularly to schools.

"People Always Complain About Taxes Until Their Trash Doesn't Get Picked Up"

I wish I knew how many unnecessary taxes were paid because some politician scared the voters into thinking that the hospitals would turn them away unless taxes were raised immediately. Governor O'Malley was able to increase sales taxes by 20% as a measure to balance the budget, only to concurrently pass some health bill that spent another $500 billion in new money.

The most important thing to remember is that the tax cap does not propose to cut tax revenue! It only proposes to limit its growth to what can be considered a fair level. If the city can't figure out how to maintain the same level of services with a guaranteed income stream that increases by 4.5% every year, then I will be happy to explain it to them for a very reasonable price.

Who Is Right?

I really, REALLY would like to say that supporting the property tax cap is a no-brainer. The only reason why it's a slight-brainer is that the city's only means of taxation is the property tax--they don't have sales tax, or income tax. Maybe it's because I had too much grapefruit juice, but I figure I should verify that the city's hands are sufficiently untied to meet the service requirement of the citizens. Tragically, I had to do some research, but I feel comfortable to present the reasons to support a property tax cap in Annapolis. While writing these reasons, you will see that many of them overlap with other aspects of city government, or perhaps reforms of city government. Issues don't exist in a bubble, and it's beneficial to see each issue as part of an overall vision of how local government should be executed.

-The city is not losing any money. Limiting the growth of something is way different than reducing it. I couldn't find data for Maryland (after looking for like 45 seconds), but judging by the national data, the rate of inflation will fall below 4.5% and be the cap on property tax revenue. The city can control the property tax rate, so they still have control over property taxes (subject to the cap). If you think inflation rates would be low and you wanted to play it safe, you could set the cap at the rate of inflation plus 1%, with a max of 4.5%. It would still be better than the current situation, which saw the budget increase by 6-8% in most years of the Moyer administration. In any case, the budget would still be allowed to grow.

-Services can be sustained. In other words, I am not convinced that the city is on the brink of financial disaster, and I am convinced that there are areas that can be cut before essential services would be affected. The Moyer administration was characterized with expansion, the pinnacle of which is probably the Department of Economic Development. With a director, a staff, and a healthy special projects budget, the department is good for over a half-million dollars in cost. And that doesn't include the rent on their building on West St., which is somehow listed as "0". Eliminating this department would be a great place to start, and would provide significant savings without affecting essential services.

-The city will be forced to become more efficient. There's nothing like a law to change the way you do things. How can the city become more efficient? Cutting jobs is certainly one way. To look a step further, there is perpetual talk about combining services with the county: police, fire, public works, etc. The county headquarters lies in city limits, for goodness sake. A tax cap would encourage the city to take a real look at this and could provide savings to the taxpayer.

-The city will have to find creative ways to secure revenue. 'Governments getting creative with revenue' is normally a scary thing, but the city is fortunately constrained by jurisdiction. Lobbying efforts to get money from the county and state would gain more importance, and fees for the Enterprise Funds (water, sewer, dock fees, parking fees, etc) would probably increase, but at least the taxpayer could control how much they use those services. Perhaps more importantly, the city would be forced to look to expand their tax base. This could come through annexation, or through property already within the city limits: public housing. Many Annapolitans would cite public housing as centers for crime in the city, and many would support a reduction in public housing. A property tax cap would certainly be better received if it was accompanied by a reduction in crime and an increased tax base.

-The city will have to find creative ways to cut costs. Similarly, I envision a world where the city would be forced to make a significant structural change to the benefit of the taxpayers. The number one driver of costs is labor (salaries and benefits), and the determinant of that is union contracts. A property tax cap would give the city negotiating position with the unions to say "hey, we can't give you everything you want, because we have to comply with this law".

-Lower property taxes will attract businesses. Since we will be eliminating the department of economic affairs, we have to figure out a way to develop the economy! Lower property taxes will do this. Lower property taxes will mean lower rents, lower fixed costs for businesses, and an easier pill to swallow for entrepreneurs making risk/reward decisions. With competition coming from the neighboring county, this would be a welcome change to the business environment in the city.

-City economic situation will reflect overall economic situation. As noted, reliance on transfers and grants from other jurisdictions would gain more importance. It has been shown that in tough economic times, these transfers are reduced. The city, therefore, would be forced to cut back in tough economic times, which is also a welcome change. As it is, politicians seem to be oblivious to current economic circumstances, willing to incorporate tax and fee increases without remorse.

-Maintenance projects can be funded by bonds, and debt payments could be excepted under the cap. A maintenance backlog has been cited as an example of why the county's property tax cap isn't working. An astute observer (meaning someone who read the top part of this post) would note that the city also has a backlog, and does not have a tax cap. Bond funding for maintenance projects would still be available! As the city will tell you, they receive a very favorable interest rate on bonds, minimizing the cost of borrowing that money. Furthermore, debt service can be exempted when computing the spending allowed by the tax cap. Along with a requirement that bond funding be used only for infrastructure projects, this would allow the cap to work while permitting investments in infrastructure.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Moyer, Miron, and Others Named In Sexual Harassment Lawsuit

See HERE or HERE. Hat tip to Arundel Muckracker.

Here are the allegations as summarized by Eye On Annapolis:

-Mayoral Appointee Mike Miron approached her and other women asking if they wanted to see his “pussy”. (He was carrying a cat at the time)

-Mayoral Appointee Mike Miron routinely commented that because of her race (presumably) she would not have been allowed in certain establishments in years past

-Mayoral Boyfriend Dale Maddox reached under her blouse and groped her while the Mayor watched

-Mayoral Boyfriend Dale Maddox referred to her as “Aunt Jemima”

-Mayor Moyer refused to address the issues and despite having been a witness, claims she did not believe Ms. Blakeney

Monday, July 13, 2009

You Too Can Be A Blogger

The only book that has permanent territory on my coffee table is called 100 Bullshit Jobs...And How to Get Them, by Stanley Bing. As a public service, and during this harsh unemployment, I am going to reproduce Mr. Bing's section on the number 13 BS job: Blogger. Fortunately 'lawyer' is also on the list of bullshit jobs, and I therefore have no fear of being sued for copyright infringement. Away we go.


$$: Relatively small, but prospects for high-paying bullshit job in the future are virtually assured.

Bullshit Quotient: 92. Sometimes you piss off the wrong people.

(The maximum number is 200, and the only job in the book achieving this level is 'Being Donald Trump'.)

Skills Required: Ability to upload thoughts, vapors, resentments, insights, lack of insights, rumors, stuff you've heard, stuff you haven't heard, truth, lies, semifact, appropriated wisdom, logrolling, political and sociological venom, self-promotion, and other cultural effluvia on a blank screen day in and day out; must possess the impression that one's quotidian brain activity is of interest to others. Helps to be funny but when that is impossible, being hateful often suffices.

Duties: Write all day. Write all night. doo-dah.

Famous Examples: Wonkette. All the blogs owned by Murdochian online minimogul Nick Denton--Defamer in LA, Gawker in New York--tend to be the creme de la creme of the genre, with vast knowledge of who is attractive and vulnerable to abuse. Others, like Matt Drudge and Jim Romanesko, are not bloggers per se but packagers of other people's digital fart and, at times, actual journalism.

How to Get It: Set up a Web log by establishing a site. That is your blank slate. Don't leave it blank for long. Start writing, and by writing, I mean filling up the screen with words. Try to do this all the time. Let no notion or twinge go unexplored. After a while, your natural human tendency to be appropriate or kind or thoughtful or to edit yourself in any way will decay, falling away from you like a dead husk. This is good. When it's gone altogether, you'll find your output will be staggering. It's not that hard to write when the activity itself is the only job requirement.

The Upside: The is one of the bullshit jobs you can do immediately, with no training and no prior experience. You can also become very famous, since the established media, increasingly devoid of excitement and ideas of its own, has taken to siphoning off daily blogging activity as a much better and more interesting alternative to actual news.

The Downside: You need a full, daily dose of imagination, guile, bile, and people pouring nonsense into your head that you can repeat.

The Dark Side: Your skin glows an ethereal white, your eyes become rheumy and bloodshot. Hair erupts in horrendous places. You don't care. You are now nothing but a conduit through which pass all the rare gases of the universe. You are, in short, a blog.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Fox Officially Files Candidacy

Yesterday, Chris Fox filed a certificate of candidacy, and officially became the first candidate to qaulify for the general election.

Candidates who run as a Republican or Democrat have to participate in the primary election process, and a continuously updated list of those candidates can be seen HERE. As an independent, Fox had to obtain 500 signatures from registered city voters, with a minimum of 5o from each ward. The signature drive took the Fox campaign to hundreds of doors in each of the wards, and its recent completion signifies a spot on the general election ballot.

I am providing you with the following press release for further enjoyment:

Chris Fox

Press Statement Contact: Devin Heritage
JULY 2, 2009

Independent Candidate Fox Officially Files Candidacy

Annapolis, MD – Chris Fox officially filed for candidacy to run for the elected position of Mayor of Annapolis, Maryland today. Fox is running as an independent candidate, which requires him to secure 500 signatures from registered voters in the City of Annapolis in order for his name to appear on the ballot this Fall.

On June 30, 2009, the City of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County approved Fox’s petition to run for Mayor of Annapolis. Fox is a longtime downtown resident and business owner that believes the partisan bickering at City Hall has only hurt residents of Annapolis.

“Republicans and Democrats vote along party lines; it is my fear that the council all too often considers other motives when voting on legislation.” Fox stated, “When voting the only consideration should be ‘What is best for Annapolis?’”
Fox plans to run a grass roots campaign focusing on a number of key issues but not limited to:

· A need for a City Manager form of government
· A reduction in property taxes through government transparency
· Creation of a thriving market place
· Providing a clear path through job placement for residents of public housing.

Bio for Chris Fox:

Chris was born in Prince George's County, the 13th of 16 children. He now resides in downtown Annapolis, where he has lived for the better part of the last 14 years.

After working in the restaurant industry around the country for several years, Chris opened Sly Fox Pub with his brother Andrew Fox in 2002. The brothers revitalized a historic property on Franklin St. and Church Circle, setting out to create a casual atmosphere to serve locals and offer a refreshing alternative to the downtown restaurant scene. It was this business venture that sparked Chris's interest in politics. Frustrated with the city's policies towards local businesses, Chris began to follow the political process. Fox soon came to the conclusion that being part of the decision process ultimately results in better solutions. It is this commitment that drives his mayoral campaign.

Chris is not what you would expect from a politician--far from it. Fox is what you would expect your neighbor to be: concerned about the community, unafraid to tell it like it is, and willing to fight for his beliefs. Fox understands that some may characterize his current political experience as a disadvantage, however, Fox feels the city of Annapolis can only benefit from a Mayor unbiased by party lines and focused on the needs of Annapolitans. Annapolis voters can bring about the day when an elected official is finally able to bring common sense to government.

Candidates Given 2 Days To Find Campaign Chairmen

So far, I have memorized roughly 3% of the city code, and frequently quote it during parties and stand-up comedy routines. Since I am helping with a mayoral campaign, I made it a priority to read the city code about campaigns.

Most people know that campaigns need committees, and those committees need treasurers. However, there is another requirement in the city code regarding campaign staffing, and it is NOT a campaign manager. The code makes no reference to a campaign manager, and you don't have to have one. The code does make mention of a campaign chairman, who has to live in the city and meet certain other requirements.

Rumor has it that the city attorney was on the phone yesterday, informing candidates that their candidacies were invalid because they didn't have chairmen. Of all the candidates that filed for office, only 3 had chairmen listed on their applications. Why these applications were accepted in the first place remains a mystery. The ultimatum was: find a chairman by Friday, or withdraw the candidacy.

This marks a change in election code enforcement. The election code review committee, as well as chairs of the election board, lament that they have no teeth to enforce the code. The only means of enforcement was thought to be referral to the state's attorney for possible prosecution. You might remember that Alderman Sam violated election code by (1) not filing a campaign finance report because his apartment flooded and (2) used city hall chambers for a clear campaign event--only to have nothing happen.

I guess something happened this time. (I don't know if Shropshire's campaign was one of the offenders.)