Doty misses the point

In his recent column Ralph Doty makes some interesting and valuable comments about the Duluth Area’s property taxes. I have good reason for irritation with Doty on an old score but I appreciate anyone who can wade through the murk to point out useful information.

I found this observation particularly interesting.

“City councilor Todd Fedora recently told a radio audience that tax receipts from Duluth’s property tax levy were $13.5 million in 2007. But — here’s the rub – the city’s total health costs for current and retired employees was $17.4 million.

If the city wasn’t’t taking in a lot of money from its sales tax, it would have been bankrupt a long time ago.”

But on one score Doty is completely wrong.

“While the city of Duluth struggles with its deficit and the school district continues to cut important services to students, St. Louis County blithely goes about the business of funding projects and services the city can only dream about – and increasing property taxes every year to pay the bills.

Anger over city property taxes seems to be misplaced: The county’s share of a property tax dollar is 63 cents, while the city gets 22 cents and the school district receives even less at 11 cents.”

While Doty is right to point out the size of property taxes imposed by St. Louis County he too easily dismisses the tax increases of the School Board. Yes, the Schools consume far less property tax but the School District has a bigger budget than the City of Duluth. The schools property taxes are low because the State has made it a point to keep them low because of the relative importance of public education and its determination not to give poor kids and poor communities inferior K-12 schools. The State legislature didn’t anticipate that School Districts like Duluth would use the state’s school tax relief as cover to gouge taxpayers. If every school district in the state did what Duluth was doing the state would intervene in a heartbeat to prevent the state from going into bankruptcy.

When the District’s rates went down it made the schools share of the total property taxes look much more reasonable relative to the City or County. But to reinterate, The school district’s budget is bigger than the cities. Furthermore, the Red Plan will double the School’s property taxes in a few years while the County is increasing its tax rate by 5%. That’s nothing compared to last years school property tax increase of 56%.

Dismissing this monstrous increase by comparing the School District with the City and County is a lousy way to justify the Red Plan.