Property taxes on the ala carte payment plan  

Director of Finance, Oshkosh, Wisconsin

An alert reader of the Oshkosh Northwestern recently wrote a letter to the editor that helped me see the injustice of the real estate property tax bill you sent me last month. It appears that you expect me to pay for services I did not use in 2009. Please inform the staff at City Hall, (They do a great job; they are always professional and efficient.) that I will not pay the inflated amount you expect me to.
Your bill shows that I owe about $970 to the school district. This figure is much too high. My sons attend only two of the 13 grades the schools provide. Furthermore, they only use one of the district's 21 buildings! My calculations show that I owe $7.18 for schools, given that my children use such a small part of what the district offers.
I visited the city's website. (Kudos to your staff! It was clear, up-to-date, easy to navigate, and I found the budget figures I needed very easily!) The pie chart on page 17 of the budget shows that a total of 37.8% of the city's budget goes to the police and fire departments. Since I was neither a crime nor fire victim in 2009, I am reducing my payment to the city by the same percentage which comes out to $416.30. Looks like Community Policing and fire prevention education are really paying off!
The same chart shows that 26.2% of the budget goes to "debt service." Since I did not personally borrow any of this money, indeed much of it was borrowed before I even moved to Oshkosh, I will reduce my payment by 26.2% or $314.92.
[Between us, don't you think we could get a better deal on debt service? What exactly is debt service; does someone come along and change the debt's oil every 3,000 miles? Perhaps the City Council should cut this entirely-not your department, I know, just sayin'.]
The same chart shows that .6% of the city's expenditures go to public health. Well, no one in my family needed them this year. And thanks to the free H1N1 shots my son got at school, we probably will not need them in 2010! I am deducting $7.12 from my tax bill because I did not use their services.
The city's Department of Public Works maintains 245 miles of city streets. I got that figure from a really pleasant man who works for the city, be sure to give him a pat on the back for me! I sat down with a map and realized that in 2009 I only drove on 8.7% of all the streets in the city, so I am taking another $144.86 off my bill.
Finally, $44.47 of my tax payment goes to support the Public Library. I just called the Reference Desk, the librarian was knowledgeable and pleasant as always, and she told me that the library holds 269,644 circulating items. In 2009 my family borrowed fewer than 200 of them. Surely you do not expect me to pay for more than a quarter million items we did not borrow! My calculations show that my family's portion of library usage comes to 16.5¢. Since I believe in going the extra mile for the greater good, I will round that to 17¢.
I have been most impressed with the quality of service we get from our public servants as I have done research for this letter. Every one of them has been pleasant and professional, we really benefit from their hard work and dedication. Please tell your staff how much I appreciate them.
Then inform the ladies on the first floor of City Hall that I will not be paying that bloated $2,181.51 your tax bill suggests. $282.51 is my "fair usage" amount for 2009.
Sincerely yours,
Thomas C. Willadsen
Citizen, Tax Payer
This article was published in the Oshkosh Northwestern, January 27, 2010