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Advice for local governments


We're coming up on the most-dreaded week of any year the week that includes April 15 and wrapping up income tax returns.

Though some enjoy the prospect of a refund, many have to write a check.

This year, for the first time since 2002, our household's agenda included a state return. When you live in Texas or Florida, as we did from mid-2001 to the end of 2006, you don't have state income tax.

To most people in those states, it's like a badge of honor and defiance. They know better than to give too much of their money to their state government, and having only federal income tax proves their independence. Supposedly.

To anyone who moves to those states from elsewhere, it does seem like an added benefit. Employers there like to say you're getting a raise by not having to pay that extra 4 to 5 percent.

That's OK, as long as you don't own property.

Buy a house, especially in Texas, and then brace yourself. Because the property taxes will hit you far harder than in Colorado.

It really bothers me when longtime Coloradans complain about their property taxes being too high. You don't know how good you have it.

We lived in Amarillo, Texas, from 2003 to 2005. It's a lot like Colorado Springs was 30 years ago: about 250,000 people in the metro area, easy to get around, everything's convenient. Homebuyers have plenty of reasonable options. Our choice was a nice, four-year-old townhome in a suburban neighborhood comparable to Briargate here. It was nothing luxurious, it cost $150,000, and it was enjoyable except for the property taxes.

We didn't pay state income tax, but the tax bill on that modest townhome came to more than $4,000 a year, with healthy chunks going to local schools and governments, even a community college.

It didn't take long to figure the math. We were paying far more in property tax than we had paid in property and state income tax combined here. We didn't complain, though, because we could see how that tax money was spent to make the community and the area a better place to live. But it was most definitely a big bite.

Then we moved back here, at the start of 2007, and the differences were more apparent than ever before. The property taxes are low, ridiculously low to be honest, and yet people don't seem to understand why they still can't receive all kinds of services from their local and state governments.

We could jump off from there and blame Douglas Bruce, in particular his Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. But that's too easy. There's another point to this discussion.

Our county and city leaders are considering strategies for asking you and me for more money, just to make our governments work at a more functional but still-restrained level. The pendulum has swung too far in the belt-tightening direction, but it's not easy persuading conservative voters to agree with that.

Perhaps the answer should go beyond just talking about how local services have deteriorated. It's easy to point out the unfixed potholes, the uninspected restaurants and the close-to-overflowing jails. People have seen and heard all of that, and now most just shrug.

It might be different if they learned how much less they pay in local and state taxes as compared to other cities and regions of our size.

In all likelihood, energetic staffers in our local governments would have little difficulty organizing the numbers to paint a clear picture of how unrealistic our current package is.

This doesn't mean somebody who owns a $150,000 home in Colorado Springs should suddenly have to pay $4,000 a year in property taxes. But it isn't hard to check the records and find homes here worth $300,000 or more with tax bills of less than $2,000 a year.

Those kinds of numbers could help our city and county make their case, with the challenge of convincing the populace to invest more in our local government, which can't afford to provide many normal services anymore.

But first, let's make it beyond April 15.

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