Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Wheel Tax Mania

How much is the street in front of your house worth to you? What value do you derive from having curbs and gutters on your block? What is it worth to you not to have potholes, standing water and cracked or heaving sidewalks along your street? For a growing number of people here in the Fox Valley, the answer to those questions is apparently twenty bucks. The Oshkosh Common Council is the latest to hear from residents facing special assessments for street reconstruction projects how "unfair" it is that they have to pay such a large bill. I've been covering city politics for 16-years now and I can tell you that these complaints have been a regular occurrence for all 16-years. But the hot new trend among the "I don't want to pay for my street" crowd is the demand for a Wheel Tax upon all vehicles registered in the city. Appleton Alderman Joe Martin should get the lion's share of the credit (or blame) for this trend. He's the one who started calling for it in that city--and now every anti-assessment supporter is jumping on the bandwagon, touting the Wheel Tax as the great "equilizer" when it come to paying for road projects. The only problem is, the Wheel Tax is not as "fair" as the proponents would have you believe. The Oshkosh Corporation will never have to pay the Wheel Tax for all of the vehicles it drives around the city because it is only collected on passenger vehicles registered with the DMV. That also means the Pepsi distributor in town, the UPS delivery center and any other business relying on commercial trucks and other heavy equipment will not pay a single cent (other than gas taxes) toward the reconstruction of their street. However, all of those businesses do pay property taxes--and by placing a special assessment on the projects, they will pay the exact same amount per linear foot as everybody else on the street. THAT is "fair". Perhaps if I hadn't paid a $5600 assessment for reconstruction of my street shortly after moving into my house, I'd have a bit more sympathy for those paying this year, or next year or the year after that. But I knew what the bill was going to be and I set aside enough each month to pay it in full when it finally arrived. Now, everyone else can do the same thing--just like all of the people who paid their special assessments before me--and the people who paid before them. As an added bonus, you will have a greater appreciation for the real value of the street and sidewalks in front of your house. And that is rare for a government service nowadays.

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