Anatomy of DeKalb’s proposals for a sales tax hike

That’s not a typo in the headline. There are, I believe, two proposals for a sales tax hike of one cent for fiscal 2018. One comes from DeKalb city administrators, the other from the city’s finance advisory committee (FAC).

Here’s the proposal staff put into the draft budget:

proposed increase of sales tax

Sales tax for hiring police officers? Sales tax for “operations stabilization?” These people have run out of money for day-to-day expenses. The hiring spree chickens have come home to roost.

FAC also approved recommendations for a hike, but it did strip the “stabilization” money out of it, in favor of cuts. FAC says if we really need to do this, pass a .75 ordinance that’s for streets and fleet, and a separate ordinance of .25 to cover the new patrol officers, with the remainder also going to streets and fleet. FAC furthermore recommends a sunset clause on the .25 portion after five years.

I’m not keen on sunset clauses, because I’ve not seen a sunset happen at the local level. The city increased sales taxes in 2008 to get us over the recession hump, but none of them was lowered once the crisis was past. Heck, my neighbor John says they promised that a special sales tax hike for construction of the Municipal Building in the ’60s would come back off when the building was finished, but it didn’t. They always find another use for the money, and there’s nothing you can do about it until the end of forever.

There’s nothing stopping the city from re-designating the streets earmark to something else in a couple years, either. Have you noticed, for example, that $270,000 of the local motor fuel tax has found its way to airport operations? Madness.

So here’s a third proposal for a sales tax hike in DeKalb this year: zero. Mainly it’s the underlying assumption that an increase will fix our problems. That’s a lie. That’s deep denial about the nature of the problem. The taxes and fees DeKalb passed in 2008 and 2009 did not save the city from having to make a 20% reduction in the workforce in 2010, and they won’t work now. Our problem is that the bureaucrats in city hall will continue multiplying like bored mice, to the detriment of everyone else, until our city council collectively finds its ‘nads and says no.