Saturday, December 26, 2009

Time to Declare Victory?

I've written over a dozen posts since September on the subject of Truth in Taxing, arguing that from the viewpoint of property taxpayers and other members of the public, the most important measure of property taxes is the tax rate and changes in the tax rate.  In this time of declining property values, government officials will strenuously avoid mentioning tax rates, because changes in the tax rate would show their budgets in the worst possible light.  I've suggested that news sources such as the Poughkeepsie Journal should make the importance of tax rate changes clear to their readers.  This can be accomplished by putting the tax rate increase in the headline, in the lead sentence, and in the sidebar information — not burying it in the tenth paragraph, or omitting it entirely.

Noticeable Improvement in Poughkeepsie Journal's Coverage
When I wrote Poughkeepsie Journal Fails Truth-in-Taxing Test two months ago, most recent Poughkeepsie Journal stories related to property taxes had not provided truth in taxing disclosures.  Since then, there's been a noticeable improvement.  Two weeks ago, reporter Jenny Lee-Adrian's stories on the Dutchess County's budget began to prominently mention tax rates and changes in tax rates.  Yesterday, reporter Michael Woyton's story, “Beacon tax rate up by 10% despite cuts in spending”, makes the tax rate increase the main story.  Even readers who just glance at these two stories can't miss the fact that taxes for Dutchess County and City of Beacon are going up.  My hearty congratulations to the Poughkeepsie Journal, Lee-Adrian, and Woyton for doing a great job of informing the public about what's really happening with property taxes.  I'm very pleased to see what's looking like a trend of significantly improved coverage.

Minor Criticism

Just one small criticism of Woyton's story:  Some readers may be puzzled that the Beacon tax rate could be going up while spending is down.  If the story had mentioned the fact that property values are going down, these readers might have understood better.

Should I Take Credit for Poughkeepsie Journal's Improved Coverage?

Short answer:  I haven't the faintest idea.
Long answer:  I wouldn't even be asking this question, except that I received a serious inquiry about this.  I have had a relatively small amount of direct communication with some Poughkeepsie Journal reporters.  Most of their responses to my critiques of the Journal's coverage were ambivalent at best.  I certainly haven't received any indication that my arguments would affect their reporting.

My view is that this is not an important question to answer.  To me, the important thing is that the Poughkeepsie Journal seems to have made a significant improvement in coverage of property tax matters.  Although this occurred after many of my blog posts, correlation does not imply causation.

Do I Owe the Poughkeepsie Journal an Apology?
My most recent post, Poughkeepsie Journal's Fuzzy Math, accused reporter Jenny Lee-Adrian of using a rounded tax levy to calculate an inaccurate tax rate and tax rate increase in a December 17 story on the County budget.  It turns out that the math was not fuzzy, and the numbers in this story may be accurate after all.  So I owe the Poughkeepsie Journal (and Lee-Adrian) an apology, right?

Maybe.  Like most things in life, the reality is more complicated than these simple facts would suggest.  I'm currently investigating how it happened that I got it wrong.  I will post an explanation to this blog as soon as possible.  Hopefully, that will be the last post I'll be moved to write on the subject of Truth in Taxing.

1 comment:

  1. Now that election 2009 in behind us. I sincerely request that my local media. The Poughkeepsie Journal, Southern Dutchess News, Cablevision News and Come together, and set a uniform standard when it comes to reporting property taxes in Dutchess County. As a avid reader of all news outlets. There is absolutely no consistency, when it comes to reporting taxes, even within a news organization. The problem exists, as the media takes a towns press release at face value. For example, in Fishkill. It is reported that while your assessed values are down, and the Tax Rate goes up. The media then publishes that your taxes are remaining the same. This is not true, your wealth is being taxed at a higher rate, as your property is worth less! Fishkill's Tax Rate has risen by at least 30% in the last 3 years, with the non-homestead (business) rising much higher. Not once, has any of it been reported. Other towns like Red Hook and Poughkeepsie. Are upfront with the the Tax Rate. If a ordinary citizen reads the paper. The government that is truthful to it's citizens is penalized. While the town that deceives it's citizens are given a pass. This is not fair. Thus, I hope our local media sets a uniform standard when reporting taxes. This would avoid the tricks that unethical towns, send via press releases.

    Sir, this is a letter I sent to the press in mid November.

    As for Beacon, they lowered the Levy just like Fishkill. However, it was reported in Fishkill that taxes would remain the same, even though the Residential Rate went up 4% and the Commercial Rate went up 16% for 2010.

    The only media outlet that is still on the bias side is

    Keep up the good work!


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