September 7, 2018 10:45:14 AM
For years now, Caledonia has prided itself on its low taxes. The town's 6.75 millage is third lowest in the state and hasn't been changed since 2011 -- when it actually went down.
Caledonia is a conservative town, of course, so low taxes are consistent with the prevailing attitude of the town's 1,100 residents.
That said, Tuesday's Board of Aldermen meeting provided an interesting look at how a town views local taxes in a period of growth and, inevitably, the change that goes along with it.
The board of alderman set its millage for 2018-19 Tuesday. While there was some thought that an increase in the millage rate was warranted, aldermen ultimately decided to keep the millage rate unchanged, dipping into the town's reserves to make its budget.
But there was one dissenting vote. Mark Furnari, one of three new board members elected last summer, is convinced the town should raise its millage by the 10-percent allowed by law.
In making his case to his fellow aldermen, Furnari said the town needs to build its reserves to meet the needs of a growing town. "We should have an eye on the future," Furnari said. "There are going to be things that our community is going to want. I just think we should be prepared for that and be in a position to meet those needs."
Indeed, there are costs associated with growth. As towns grow, pressure on infrastructure and services increase as well. Those things cost money. In private business, acknowledging these truths and accounting for them is considered a cost of doing business. Caledonia will inevitably reach that point as well. If not now, soon.
Furnari did some homework prior to the meeting. Raising the millage to 7.4 would bring in an additional $16,000 annually. He said the tax increase on his home would amount to $9 per year, hardly a burden, he said. He also noted that even at 7.1, Caledonia's millage would be the fifth lowest in the state and a fraction of the millage in the county's other municipalities.
Ultimately, he was not able to convince his fellow board members.
For the seventh year in a row, Caledonia's millage rate will remain unchanged. In fact, when you look at what's happening in Caledonia these days, it's about the only thing that remains unchanged.
Interestingly, Furnari noted that the millage increase he suggested would add an additional $64,000 to the town's budget over four years, which is also the length of an alderman's term. That's probably not a coincidence.
Even though the town has spent its money cautiously, there is an almost visceral negative reaction to the mere suggestion of raising taxes, no matter how small the increase or how warranted it may be.
Of course, taxes should be raised only when the burden of proof is clearly established. That is a commitment elected officials make to voters and should be respected.
Furnari remains convinced that a tax increase is justifiable. It is a position he does not appear to be ready to abandon.
"I'm just disappointed I couldn't convince my fellow board members this time," he said.
As is often the case, sometimes an idea needs time to percolate. What is unpopular one day, may find favor as time and circumstances change.
Even in Caledonia.