Things To Be Considered About the Rain Water Tax/Fee

By Dee Kay

Item #1: Is the stormwater management system a public good for public benefit?
Here’s what they tell you:
(Resident10, 9.5.15) Runoff causes “…stress to our stormwater management infrastructure…” to “Bradford’s stormwater system…” which is “…very old and in need of constant repair/maintenance”… for which it should be ensured that “everyone pays for it, not just the taxpayers.”

Here’s what this actually means:
The terms “our (stormwater management infrastructure)” and “Bradford’s (stormwater system)” and “everyone (pays for it)” is wholly accurate. The stormwater management is a public good. The proponents of the “fee” openly acknowledge that the infrastructure exists for the public’s benefit, and it cannot be properly measured for consumption (which is why “everyone” should pay for it).
Other public goods that exist for the public’s benefit but cannot be adequately measured for consumption: public roads, public peace enforcement (police), public education, etc. The problem with public goods, as acknowledged by our city leaders and Resident10, is that a significant portion of the benefit of public goods is consumed by free riders. Free riders are those individuals that enjoy the benefit of a public good without actually paying for it and from whom the benefit cannot be selectively withheld because of non-payment. Therefore, taxation is the only way to fund these public goods, aka collective benefits, because these benefits cannot be limited only to those that choose to pay. More specifically, the stormwater management system exists for the general public’s benefit, regardless of who pays for it.
In summary: We’ve adequately and truthfully determined that the stormwater management system is, 1) an actual public good offering a collective benefit to the Bradford general public; and 2) being used by free riders, also known as, those that do not pay property taxes.

Let’s continue.

Item #2: Taxes vs. Fees
Here’s what they tell you:
(Resident10, 9.5.15) “Being a fee, not a tax, all property owners pay, even tax exempt, based on square footage of property that causes runoff…”

Here’s what this actually means:
A fee, by definition, is a payment made in exchange for goods and/or services. A fee is the cost of the good or service being offered. In an exchange where a fee is charged, the purchaser voluntarily sacrifices a specific amount of his/her money for a specific service or good the purchaser believes to be more valuable. Because the purchaser is aware of the benefit of the service or good, and the purchaser is adequately able to measure the benefit, said purchaser is able to make an informed decision and reserve the option to voluntarily exchange, or not exchange his/her monies.

A tax, on the other hand, is a compulsory contribution to the state. Regardless of the amount of the contribution, it remains compulsory and therefore, is paid involuntarily (to avoid the penalties threatened by the state – fines, liens, property seizures, jail, etc.) Additionally, regardless of what the contribution is used to pay for, typically public goods and services, it is still compulsory, involuntary and always mandatory.

So, to summarize: a fee is paid voluntarily in exchange for measurable goods or services of which you are adequately able to determine the value and enjoy its benefit; a tax is a compulsory charge that is mandatory and must be paid under the threat of something bad happening to you regardless of whether or not you actually benefit from the service.

When all property owners are forced to pay a fee by state compulsion, it is a tax. Period. Done. There’s literally no argument here.

Item #3: City response to complaints or emergencies
Here’s what they tell you:
(Resident10, 10.23.15): “Meadville’s was a reactive fee to help bail them out of a terrible flood … ours is being looked at as a proactive program, to maintain our stormwater management before such disaster occurs…” Then, at the end this is referred to as “common sense.”

In other words, the city of Meadville responded to an emergency situation, and subsequently charged for its services, over and above the property taxes it had already collected for same public goods and services.

Here’s what this actually means:
Meadville’s emergency response to a flood should not be regarded any differently than an emergency response to a massive blizzard. Referring back, we acknowledge that road maintenance and emergency response services (police, fire departments, etc.) are public goods paid for by taxes for the collective benefit. A blizzard could shut down businesses, cause multiple accidents resulting in property damage, injuries or even deaths, and keep city-funded snow plows and emergency responders and resources on duty for excessive periods of time, all the while racking up some major expenses for the city. But afterward, no one goes back to the public and says, “We are implementing a Blizzard Management Fee to pay for the extra resources, buy new snow plows and stockpile sand and salt so this doesn’t happen again. We just didn’t have the resources, our plows broke down and too many people that don’t pay taxes were rescued from their stranded cars or allowed access to plowed roads. So, EVERY car owner is going to pay for it! And we will be better prepared in the future.” (Note, Resident10’s 9.5.15 justification of: “…although nobody wants extra costs, this does have benefits…” would be appropriate here.) Nor does any city implement a Blizzard/Tornado/Drought/Etc. Management Fee ahead of time, to be “proactive.” What they do, though, is raise taxes. They do implement a “blizzard management fee” or an “insert-whatever-public-good-you-want-here fee” when they raise taxes the following year. And it becomes mandatory that everyone that pays property taxes pays for it, even if they head south for the winter.

The stormwater management fee is being sold as a city’s response to anticipated drainage and flood problems. It is being sold as a risk-reduction fee for the public and for all lots within the city. What’s to stop the city from implementing a “police and fire management fee” with an increase in crime to better reduce the risk of harm to all lots in the city? –or a “bad weather road maintenance fee” to better reduce the risk of accidents and maintain access to all roads under this very same justification?

Item #4: Utilization & Regulation
Here’s what they tell you:
(Resident10, 9.5.15): “…property that causes runoff (rooftops, driveways, etc)…”

Here’s what this actually means:
Property improvements do not cause runoff. Rain and the varying permeability of the surfaces it lands on cause runoff. Not one individual is to blame to rain rainoff, not even those on high ground from where the rain runs off onto lower elevations, or those with buildings or concrete or pavement on their properties.

Consider the following:
1. Humans do not create rain;
2. Humans at higher elevations cannot measure or anticipate how much rain is going to fall on, then leave their premises (is it 50%? 5%?);
3. The burden of runoff cannot possibly be measured properly without a metering system (think utilities) or something comparable;
4. When water accumulates in the lower elevations, it is those property owners that actually utilize and benefit from the system. If runoff was to be measured, it would be measured at these lower locations, as these are the people benefiting. Without the drainage system, these people would need to dig their own ditches to divert the water from their property – just like we plow and shovel our own driveways. (Please don’t even bother with the whiny “well, not everyone has an opportunity to move to higher elevations.” That statement, meant to invoke emotion to promote support for a collective benefit, is absolutely irrelevant and not an argument.)

So, in summary, not everyone actually utilizes the drains. And there is no way to measure the rainfall and runoff from each property. There’s no way to regulate utilization. This means there’s no way to charge a fee. Therefore, a tax must be imposed on all property owners.

Item #5: Discouragement of property improvements
Here’s what they tell you:
(BlahBlah, 10.21.15): “(Sigh) The tax or fee will be billed separately. Because it is illegal to charge someone twice for something, it will be deducted from taxes. That would make property taxes cheaper in the long run.” And later that same day, “Actually Tom did say this.”

Here’s what this actually means:
If there will, indeed be a credit to the property taxes for the same amount as the imposed Stormwater Management Fee, then this will have defeated the purpose of the fee: to get additional funding for the stormwater management system. This would be a wash.

Therefore, property owners should not expect a credit at all. But for those of you that like taxation for public goods which is currently based on property assessments, don’t expect your tax base to be increasing anytime soon. The fee on property owners will take money out of property owner’s pockets, diminishing the incentive and funds available for future property improvements and future increases in property assessments.

Item #6: School district, retailers and commercial landlords
Here’s what they tell you:
(Resident10, 9.5.15): “Being a fee, not a tax, all property owners pay, even tax exempt, based on square footage of property…”

Here’s what this actually means:
When examining school district properties, it is always a possibility that the cost of the Stormwater Management Fee will be passed to taxpayers. If you are a property owner, you will be paying for your own property fee, plus the school district’s fee.

When examining retail properties where the retailer is the property owner, it is always likely that the fees will be passed on to customers. If you are a property owner and customer, you will be paying for your own property fee, plus the retailer’s fee.

When examining commercial rental properties, those landlords will be forced to absorb the cost, as the fee cannot immediately be passed on to the tenants. Leases are negotiated and executed for multiple years, sometimes 10 or more years at a time, with all rent costs specifically detailed for the current lease period. The landlord will have to absorb the Stormwater Management Fee and pay for it out of his current net profits (also known as the money used for investing in additional properties, projects, etc.) until he is able to renegotiate his leases. Upon renegotiation – which would likely include an increase in rent to pay for the future fees as well as recovery of previous years’ fees – the fee will be passed to the tenant, and the tenant will pass it to its customers. If you are a property owner and a customer, you will be paying for your own property, plus the commercial landlord’s.

(Is anyone seeing a pattern here?)

Item #7: But it’s legal elsewhere
Here’s what they tell you:
Meadville has done it. Cities in the Chesapeake Bay area have done it. It’s legal as determined by the courts in Maryland and the Pennsylvania legislature.

Here’s what this actually means:
Court rulings imposed by constitutionally-uneducated or heavily-influenced judges have replaced common sense and morality, the very thing laws were created to encourage. If I remember correctly, at one time slavery was legal…wife-beating was legal… and the list goes on. Saying something is “legal” does NOT mean it is “right” nor is it “common sense.” Legality does not justify coercion, theft or violence. …I mean, you know, unless your government does it.

Item #8: Civil Disobedience
Here’s what they tell you:
We are enacting a Fee. We would like your input, but it is likely that regardless of disapproval, we still hold office for next (X amount) of years, and we will still enact it as there is no threat of retribution from the public.

Here’s what this actually means:
Screw you.

**But, don’t give up! The authority of your leaders is only as strong as you allow it to be. Authority only exists through acknowledgment and obedience. If it is, indeed, just a FEE, then they cannot seize your actual parcel of property like they can for unpaid taxes nor can they withhold stormwater management services. They can only seek the unpaid fees, fines, administrative costs, etc. in either currency or property of equal value. So what? Think about it. What if a whole group commits to civil disobedience? to not paying? Then what?

EDITORS NOTE:

This article was originally posted in the BradfordToday forums by user “Dee Kay” and can be found by clicking HERE.

Posted by on Dec 9 2015. Filed under Local News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

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