20 September 2006


I am probably not going to make any new friends tonight, but in my opinion, it has come time to speak out. The source of my angst is an article that appeared in the Baltimore Sun Howard section. The article recounted the Howard County Council meeting of September 18, 2006.

One of the items discussed at the County Council meeting was the Merdon tax cut plan for senior residents over 70 years old. I really have no problem with the tax cut per se, but the rhetoric has gotten to the point that red flags should be waving.

With respect to tax cuts the following passage appears in the article:

Others argued that keeping longtime residents at home would help the school system and reduce the bill's cost by delaying younger families with children from buying the homes.
Outrage. Pure Outrage. In this county that saw the birth of Columbia and a subsequent welcoming of all no matter economic, racial, social or religious status, people are openly expressing a desire to prohibit (at least temporarily) young people from moving into the county. Heaven forbid that these young people breed and have children. It appears that some find that an even greater offense. Discrimination and ageism are ugly faces, even if they have grandchildren.

Where are my good friends that evoke the name of James Rouse when building heights are discussed? Would James Rouse have an opinion on raising a family in Howard County? Would he find building height a prominent point of discussion but be mute on the subject of ageism?

I bit my cheeks as long as I could when we started changing our environment to better suit seniors over others. I turned my head when people started talking about seniors being a benefit when compared to other citizens because they used less government services. Now that people are openly looking to discriminate against youth, I can’t stand for it any longer.

So pursue your tax cut, take what you can, but remember, it is my generation (and those generations that follow) that will be serving you food at restaurants, running the power plants to keep the lights on, attending to your health needs, and patrolling your streets. Keep in mind that without a place to live (because families with children are delayed from buying homes), the “full freight” tax base in this county may start to diminish, and when that happens we can all look to Pennsylvania.

By U.S. Census data, Pennsylvania is one of the “oldest” states in the country. That is, it has one of the highest median ages. Research (here and here) has shown that one of the causes for this is the demise of the mining and steel industries. When those industries collapsed, almost an entire generation left the area to find work to support families. Some areas of Pennsylvania are actively writing letters to high school graduates from the region, asking them to come back and revitalize their towns.

Depending on the zeal at which this “families last” rhetoric continues, Columbia and Ellicott City will become service class and creative class Allentowns. And the sad thing is that the cause will not be the economic conditions of industries, it will be by choice.

Now at the age of 40, I cannot realistically hang my hat on the mantle of youth any longer. I believe I am here for the long haul. I suppose if this vitriol continues and the citizens embrace the idea that families with children should be held at bay, I can only oppose the idea as long as I have strength.

At that point I will probably become much like the mysterious Once-ler, living in the part of town where the grickle-grass grows.



Hayduke said...

Not sure if you saw this, but here's the story in the Post, including this welcome quote from a senior who, like you, is a little concerned about the message this bill -- and other measures like it -- are sending:

Susan R. Buswell, an Ellicott City resident who said she would be eligible for the tax discount, believes it could have unintended consequences.

"How many options should be provided for seniors to reduce their property taxes?" she asked the council. "What does their reduction do to the remaining property taxpayers?"

Merdon pointed out that the measure had overwhelming support in the General Assembly and was signed into law by Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R).

But Buswell replied, "Balancing equity to all the citizens is your responsibility."

While I understand the desire and need to help those on fixed incomes with rising costs of living, I can't help but feel the same way you do. I've seen many of my friends leave HoCo in pursuit of a home they can actually afford to buy (instead of just rent). I've also had my mortgage payment increase more than $200 in the last month because of rising property taxes brought on by a rise in my assesment.

And while I hope and acknowledge that my income is likely to increase, the short term situation I face is no different than the situation facing many seniors, yet the rush to provide assistance to me and other young people -- many of whom could potentially purchase a house if their tax burden was decreased -- is nonexistent.

But, that's the price you pay for living in a voting bloc that largely doesn't vote, I guess.

Anonymous said...

It's absolutely disgusting is what it is. I grew up here, when this was a place for families. The idea that Columbia should become some sort of Leisure World retirement city scares the heck out of me. We're supposed to be diverse - and we're supposed to encourage families of all economic classes to come and live here. We're killing ourselves if we don't.

B. Santos said...

Thanks for the link to the WaPo article. I agree with everything you say above. I think everyone is having trouble with respect to housing costs, and it sure isn’t easy to break into this market.

That being said, my focus was on the point raised in the article that the tax cuts could be used as a tool to limit young families from buying houses. Blatant discrimination must be vigorously opposed, no matter the source.

Now if you want to get wonky on housing costs and how to provide some relief to people of our (I’m taking a little bit of liberty here) age here is a half-baked idea:

Given that most of us have no pension program, invest in 401k’s that are subject to market conditions (past performance is no indication of future earnings!), and will see at best diminished social security, why not allow the county to take 1% of the assessed value of our homes each year and put it in an account to help pay your property taxes when we retire.

Some of the conditions that I could see would include:

*** The program must be voluntary.

*** Homeowners could only have an account for their primary residence (That is, if you own multiple properties, you can only set up an account for the property in which you live.)

*** The account could be transferred to other properties (i.e. a homeowner sells a condo that is his/her primary residence and buys a single family home that is his/her primary residence) in the County if the homeowner is not retired.

*** The account could be transferred only once after the homeowner retires (i.e. empty nesters sell the family home to buy a condo).

*** If the homeowner is no longer the primary resident of the property, or sells the property and moves out of the county, all accrued funds would be transferred to the County general fund

*** The County would be permitted to place account monies into an interest bearing account.

I am sure this is probably illegal in fiver or six different ways, but maybe some form of this idea could be implemented.

Anonymous said...

I am amazed at the self serving comments, and the lack of compassion shown on this post. I know many seniors, with limited incomes, who have trouble keeping up with taxes. Your comments truly show a significant lack of understanding to seniors who have fought for this country, and were the pioneers for places like Columbia. I know my grandfather likes the fact he can live in his home - he is the lucky one. Many others have to move out to a nursing home, or some other type of facility, which really tears them apart. Shame on all of you, I am in my early forties too, diversity is the strength of our nation, that includes age diversity too.

B. Santos said...

Thank you for your passion, but I believe it is misplaced. Honestly I do. As I said in my original post, I have no quarrels with the tax cut based on its merits. It would certainly help many people I know; friends, parents, teachers, etc.

What I do have a problem with (and I hope you have a problem with too) is the following comment printed in the Baltimore Sun:

Others argued that keeping longtime residents at home would help the school system and reduce the bill's cost by delaying younger families with children from buying the homes.

Apply that statement to any other group and it rings up at “full tilt” on the discrimination meter. Go ahead, replace the word “younger” in the above quote from the Baltimore Sun with any other group. That is what this post is about.

FreeMarket said...

Property taxes should be charged on the property, without regard whatsoever of the age, race, gender or income level of the owner of the property. Any other way of administering the property tax is discriminatory and completely illogical. This whole idea of a tax break is an attempt to get votes from older folks, who are known to be very active in the political process. Any other explanation of this proposition is a rationalization. I like the idea of a property tax decrease, but spread it around to everyone.

SF Hunt said...

The last two posts say it all. As a member of group that has been nailed by this sort of thing over the history of the US, anything that looks and/or smells like discrimination sets off my radar, and my Spider-sense is darn sure tingling right about now.

To the point about seniors, I have an 80-year old father-in-law who's been in Columbia since there WAS a Columbia, and the last thing he's looking for is a special break. He's a homeowner, so he knows that he has to do his part. His biggest beef is the ever-increasing property taxes that we're all getting hit with. But, again, he thinks it should be less for ALL of us, not just him and his fellow retirees.

The sad thing is that this is being pushed by someone (Merdon) that is roughly OUR AGE. As Hayduke noted, it's all about votes, and our senior friends do that. Maybe if this sort of thing happens enough times, our fellow Gen X/Y/Z (or whatever this week's term is) will find their way to the polling place.

Anonymous said...

So shall we get rid of Social Security and Medicare too, because those do also take away revenue from young families also? You must realize that the seniors and others on FIXED incomes have been hit hard by hyper increases to property values, and the tax increases that have been approved by Robey, Guzzone and Ulman trifecta (30% increase over 6 years) significantly compounds this problem. This makes it difficult for seniors to stay in their homes,lets keep them out of nursing homes, were the quality of life is very poor, they are away from their families and friends. All I am saying, show a little compassion, Merdon plan has merit, and may require further refinement, but it is for the better good. Columbia is for families, kids, parents & grandparents too!

David W. Keelan said...

I respectfully disagree. Howard County has been tightening the housing supply for a decade through increased home values that breed increase property taxes. The current property tax is discriminates against Seniors, middle class, and low income families.

You may not like the statement that one of the "benefits" of a Senior property tax cut with certain restrictions may prevent families from moving into the County. The real discrimination is against those that can't afford to live in Howard County because of high property values and taxes.

Anonymous said...

The difference is that the seniors already OWN their houses, and have lived in HC for years. They are not trying to buy into the market, that every other posts here speaks to, that is the FUNDAMENTAL difference. The taxes force them out of their home, not keep them from purchasing a new home, or moving into the county. And remember, this new legislation may not have been even needed if Robey/Guzzone/Ulman did not raise taxes to support the "rubberstamping" of budgets for the last 8 years. The problem is a function of lack of discipline and leadership of budgets submitted and approved. If it gets Merdon more votes - GREAT, then the seniors are finally having a voice that has not been heard for years.

FreeMarket said...

David K- You mentioned that “The current property tax is discriminates against Seniors, middle class, and low income families”. The same thing can be said for any regressive tax. The only way to eliminate this perceived unfairness is to get rid of property taxes altogether and raise taxes on income or expenses to cover the revenue loss. That way everybody pays in the same ratio. Merdon’s proposal doesn’t do anything.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous (22 September, 2006 07:11): Just where are seniors entitled to the right to live in the home lived in last year? Why isn't a 30-year old entitled to the same discriminatory protections to keep undesirables out of his home?