Monday, March 12, 2007


Fires, Floods, and Property Taxes

Some time ago I had a conversation with a member of the city council of a small city here in California. She said that the city had a problem raising enough revenue to pay for the services provided to the residents. In particular she said that the tax on residential property was not sufficient to pay for the services that residential property requires.

Today, on the front page of the Los Angeles Times I saw an example of what she was talking about. The center story today is about a fire in the Anaheim Hills area of Orange County. The fire has burned about 2000 acres and has damaged some buildings. According to the Times story,

The fire, coming during an especially dry winter, was fanned by Santa Ana winds blowing through the air dangerously heated by record-setting temperatures. Red flag conditions, oppressive heat and single-digit humidity also complicated the efforts by the more than 800 firefighters at the scene.The Anaheim Hills neighborhood features hotel-sized homes, some 7,000 to 10,000 square feet and still under construction.

I don't know what the property tax rates are in the area of the fire. The expensive homes may be new. If so, they would be taxed according to the price the owners paid for them and not according to the assessed value in 1975. Another excerpt from the Times article suggests that most of these homes are fairly new.

Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Glenn Sekius, from Fire Station 10 in Yorba Linda, fought a blaze in this corridor the last time it burned, about three decades ago."The only difference between now and 30 years ago is that people put houses in the way," he said.

The story of the fire gives me an appreciation of what my friend on the city council meant when she said that the property tax doesn't pay for the services that property requires. A city has to maintain a fire department to fight brush fires that may spread and destroy expensive homes. The city has to maintain a police department that, among other duties, has to help evacuate residents from homes threatened by a spreading wildfire. These services cost money and money must be found to maintain the service departments, even though serious fires may occur only once in thirty years.

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