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YC Magazine, Libertarian Commentary, July 2011

Independence from price shock

Libertarians know the great thing about a free market is that consumers have many choices and can vote with their dollars when they are unhappy with a service. By contrast, services offered by the government are monopolies which offer no choice and you’re still forced to pay. While our markets in York County aren’t entirely free, at least with private business you still have some degree of choice no matter what.

As a reflection of our recent Independence Day, I’d like you, the reader, to reflect upon your own personal independence from high prices, whether it be from business or government.

This past year I shopped around and got a no-contract cell phone plan for $25.00 and an additional unlimited-minute home line which will run $19.95 a year, but does require an internet connection. This switch saved me over $800 per year. There are many options out there with private enterprise.

Competition is also bringing prices down in the insurance industry where you can get a deal especially if you have a great driving record, and you can get a group discount through an association like your local credit union. Just this past month, I cut my auto and homeowners’ insurance premium by half for the same coverage. Competition is a good thing, and in this tight economy, companies are especially eager to retain and get any additional business they can. Unfortunately, government does not have to compete with anyone to get your money.

This is the way everything should run, a web of voluntary transactions for mutual benefit. Libertarians would like to see an increase in this approach instead of money being forced from taxpayers for services they may not use, options they might not have chosen, and things they may not want to pay for.

In my neighborhood, homes have very different property values even though they are relatively the same size and all were built the same year. After I purchased my property two years ago, I got sticker shock when I got my new adjusted tax valuation. They jacked up my home value by 4% even though I purchased it for a lot less than the new tax value. This may be in part because some homes have only been assessed 2003 and 2004 property values during the regular reassessment in 2006, others unfairly got to realize housing bubble rates earlier when they purchased a property in the last few years, some purchased property right at the bubble peak, and some neighbors just don’t to their research.

Right now, home values are routinely adjusted for tax purposes every 5 years with a cap of a 15% increase or decrease, and also adjusted with no cost limit when a property is sold or additions are made. The editors at The Herald have defended the practice of adjustment without the cap at sale as a “fair” way for the counties to earn income based on true market values.

In my opinion, the extra point-of sale reassessment has hurt a lot of people; however any change in tax value will always hurt the less educated and poor. If I thought a 4% increase was ridiculous, I can’t imagine how other people have dealt with a bigger increase.

Looking at just the valuation does not take into the fact that the millage (tax) rate has steadily increased over time, and that all resident homeowners are required to jump through paperwork hoops when they move in if they want the lower 4% primary residence assessment ratio rate. But guess what, our state legislature just passed a bill that repeals the additional point-of-sale reassessment. That’s big win for us as property owners.

According to the York County Tax assessors’ web site, to determine appraised value of a home, they look at market sales; comparable values of properties the same size, and a lot of county-wide statistical data. This time around, many York County property values are going up due to an increase in values between 2006 and 2008. To get a more specific individualized home value, you’ll have to hire an appraiser as the tax office has said they don’t look at individual homes.

York County has a 90-day window in which taxpayers are allowed to dispute their home valuation, and thus the taxable amount that is billed. When I finally did so and didn’t miss the deadline, the assessor called me and dropped it down to an amount closer to what I actually paid for my property. I didn’t hire an appraiser; I just researched my neighborhood’s tax values and recent sales. This past May when I got my “notice of assessment”, they dropped it down even further, but it is still 10k more than what the previous owners were taxed for.

If you are a homeowner, I highly recommend that you look to see what your neighbors’ property values are, how much homes are going for in your neighborhood, and do your research ASAP to determine whether your recent assessment is fair. The tax bills will come out this October based on the May valuations. Go to: http://www.yorkcountygov.com/

Likewise, if you get a bill for vehicle taxes, look up the value of your vehicle through NADA or Kelley Blue Book and ask for an adjustment if the county is billing you at a higher value or is not taking into account high mileage. When my vehicle tax bill listed a higher value for my car than the previous year with no tax rate increase, I was able to dispute it and knocked it down by $20.00.

It is sometimes possible to reason with government. Don’t let them or big companies take advantage of you in this economy. We’re all hurting to one degree or another, and “it’s for the children” is not sufficient reason for price sticker shock when politicians are the ones who can’t control their own spending. Demand that your representatives privatize services and allow competition to your benefit.

Jen is Secretary/Treasurer of the York County Libertarian Party. For more information go to: http://www.yclp.org

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