Using surplus for rebates just doesn't add up

September 27, 2005|By TIM ROWLAND


Good day. Today's column is brought to you by the Washington County "The Decimal Point Goes Where Now?" Commissioners' school of advanced finance.

Hey look, division wasn't my strength either, so I can completely understand how the commissioners came up with 400 when they divided 2 million by 50,000. But frankly, this even tops the School Board for mathematical prowess.

At least the calculations that caused the board to overpay new teachers this year involved wading thorough some kind of complicated formula.


The county just straight-out botched a simple piece of division. What, did their slide rule get warped? Abacus lose a couple of beads? With math skills like that, our elected leaders would have made plausible journalists.

This all started when the commissioners seemed surprised to learn they would be carrying a "monumental" $12 million surplus, which is proof the commissioners have been living on Pluto for the past 12 months and have not seen the raft of higher growth, assessments and development taxes go floating by.

So Commissioner Bill Wivell said it would be a friendly gesture to give some of this $12 million surplus back to the taxpayers. Not much of it, mind you, just enough to show us they care - say $2 million.

And hey, you split that up among 50,000 taxpayers and you get $400 each, which in Washington County parlance is a right good piece of change.

Or it would be, if $2 million divided by 50,000 actually equaled $400 (which it doesn't) instead of $40 (which it does).

The news story only said "one of the commissioners" said the rebates would equal $400. So we can't exactly say for certain who the commissioner was. Personally, I think this smacks of a coverup. You can bet if we go back and replay the tape to see who "one of the commissioners" was, you will find an 18-minute gap.

Of course none of the commissioners seemed to notice there was anything wrong with math. And heck, Wivell himself is an accountant, after all. Of course, the Congressional Budget Office is chock full of accountants and look what happens.

Maybe this is promising. Maybe the commissioners have made some other mistakes as well. Maybe the airport is only costing us $7 million instead of $70 million. Maybe if I take my $1,464 tax bill and write them out a check for $14.64, they won't notice.

Undeterred, the commissioners are still apparently going to go through with a $40 rebate. Here you go pard, 40 smackers, don't spend it all in one place.

Cute. Not to be ungrateful, but most kids get more monthly allowance than the commissioners are rebating us property owners. What are you going to do with your $40? Buy half a tank of gas? Spring for the large popcorn next time you go to the picture show? Parlay your $40 into $2 by buying lottery tickets?

Strange, but I could have sworn I've heard the county say we need money for roads but we don't have it. We need money for schools but we don't have it. We need money for farmland preservation but we don't have it. Well now they have it, and they want to give it back.

Speaking only for myself - and I guarantee I am the only person here in Tightwad County who feels this way - I don't want it. Yeah, I know, to the people who are perpetually stuck in the year 1952, $40 seems like a lot of jack, because back then it was the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $320. But to me, here in 2005, I can worry along without it.

The way I see it, $2 million would go a long way toward a new, much-needed school. Or, if you are one of those pandering fool politicians who would lick 10 feet of dirt road in exchange for a vote and you feel the need to be able to put on your campaign brochure that you "led the charge for a property tax rebate," then do this:

Figure out which among the "50,000 taxable accounts" represent senior citizens on fixed incomes and limited savings, who will really be hurt by the rising property tax assessments and high heating costs this winter. You can give my share to them. I mean that. And if enough people do that, perhaps the elderly could get a rebate that actually is in the neighborhood of $400.

Of course, this would mean the county would have to do some pretty complicated math, so I'm not optimistic.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist.

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