There is no more basic relationship than government and taxes. In fact, some might say that governments exist for the sole purpose of taxing those they govern.
Thus, there are two corollaries to that rule. The first is that there is no greater goodwill gesture a politician can make than to lower taxes. The second is that there is no greater danger to a politician than increasing the tax load.
On Monday night, in its first decisions that will affect residents directly, the new Michael Garvey administration rescinded tax abatements to residents in the village’s Special Service Areas. It’s a move that would appear to be counterintuitive politically. In reality, however, it was simply responsible.
The village’s seven SSAs were created during the 1990s, principally on the south side of Brookfield, where the presence of limestone bedrock just a few feet below grade had discouraged builders from including storm sewers when those areas were developed. It was just too expensive to create the improvements and make a profit.
In the 1990s, village officials started a campaign to create the SSAs in response to continual problems related to water drainage and shabby road surfaces. The cost, they said, was too much for the village to bear. So, the village issued bonds to fund the building of new storm sewers and roads. Residents agreed to pay the debt service for the construction in exchange for new streets and a storm sewer system.
Was that the right decision? In retrospect, it’s arguable. Perhaps it could have been done differently. However, the residents of the SSAs ultimately made the decision to create the SSAs, and agreed to pay the debt service. It was a deal that vastly improved their property values and life quality.
The latter day effort to abate those debt service payments was, in our opinion, a purely political ploy to curry favor with voters in a particular area of the village at the ultimate expense of every resident.
If the village could have simply afforded to absorb the debt back in 1991, that’s one thing. But it’s clear that the village is in no position to simply start absorbing $400,000-plus in more debt at a time when the village’s debt load is already high.
There’s a good bet that many will see Monday’s move to rescind the abatements as a “tax increase” and you can be assured that in two years it will be a political talking point in the SSA areas.
The truth is that the May 25 vote to abate the SSA taxes by the previous village board was simply lowest common denominator politics. We lowered your taxes. Our opponents raised them.
But decisions like that don’t exist in a political vacuum. There are real consequences to those decisions, and Brookfield can’t afford them right now.