Pinching the middle class
Infants, schools and libraries are awfully hard to say “no” to. This fall we Eagle County voters will likely be asked to say “yes” to all three by approving a trio of property tax increases. The school and library districts want more money to expand, and County Commissioner Arn Menconi wants to fund early-childhood programs. These tax hikes seem to be aimed at helping the middle class – the people who need day care, send their kids to public school and use the library. They do so because they can’t afford to send their kids to private school, can’t afford not to have both spouses working, and checking out books and videos out is way to save money.They also can’t afford all these tax hikes. Every election – in both odd and even years, in both the spring and fall – it seems another local government or other agency want to raise property taxes while all the other costs of living also are increasing. This spring it was local fire departments asking for more money, and it can’t be long until various open space committees, rec districts, water districts and districts that haven’t even been formed yet try to siphon off a little more of our assets. Does the future promise pine-beetle eradication districts, mass-transit districts, alternative energy districts? Which of these things are necessities and which conveniences the government should fund without asking for a bump in their allowance? This fall’s proposals are particularly paradoxical – the programs seeking cash will benefit the same middle class the tax hikes will strain. I assume Menconi, in asking for the child-care tax, is trying to ease some of the struggles of working families. But in reality the increase could be another in the long list of expenses that will drive more and more members of the middle class out of Eagle County. Real estate will soon be too expensive for most middle-class families. Young families with a kid or two want land, and a condo in Edwards isn’t going to cut it. Most families are likely to move back to Minneapolis, Kansas or Wisconsin, or wherever else they came from, before they relocate to Leadville or New Castle. If they can’t afford to live near the ski mountain, they might as well have land and be near their families. And the rise of already exorbitant gas prices is not only hurting locals at the pump, but also driving up prices at the supermarket and elsewhere. Everyone who runs for office from Vail Pass to Glenwood Canyon – even in blue-collar-less Vail itself – says keeping what’s left of the county’s middle class intact is a priority. But the solution can’t always come in the form of tax increases. Which means the county will have spend the money it already gets from taxpayers differently. Though it’s probably not a middle-class program, the county made an admirable move when it funded a pair of family planning clinics without having to form a family planning district. But there are more cuts that can be made – or spending decisions that can be made differently. For one, our Sheriff’s Office is probably too big – there isn’t enough crime to justify the seemingly ubiquitous sheriff’s SUVs guzzling gas up and down Highway 6. A big park in Edwards is nice, but the county spent too much of our money on what’s probably a luxury for which private donors probably could have been found. Same with Bair Ranch – Arn Menconi can pat himself on the back for helping save some open space on the extreme western edge of Eagle County that no one will ever really notice or get to use, but the millions the county has given to a ranch family could also have been spent on child-care programs, or on a donation to the library district.The county does a decent job helping its wealthiest developers and neediest citizens, but the challenge for present and future town and county leaders who remain interested in preserving the county’s middle class is to figure out ways to help working families without trying to get their hands on our last few nickels and dimes. Or the problem will solve itself. Leaders won’t have to come up with to help the young families because there won’t be many left. City Editor Matt Zalaznick can be reached at 748-2926, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out his blog at http://www.vaildaily.com/section/BLOGVail, Colorado
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