Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Enemy Of The People

Even after all these years, Dr. Stockman is still an enemy of the people.

Henrick Ibsen’s infrequently produced play, “An Enemy Of The People,” revolves around a doctor who discovers that his town’s huge bathing complex is irretrievably contaminated. Having alerted the town, he is visited by his brother, the town’s mayor, who tells him he must retract his statements. First of all, his brother does not believe him. But even if the doctor’s views were correct, his brother still would oppose him, because the economy of the town is tied into the baths; and, in any case, the repair of the sewerage system causing the possibly deadly contamination would be too expensive a project.

Convinced the people will back him, the doctor holds a town meeting and turns to the newspapers for support. When important people in the town attempt to prevent him from speaking, Dr. Stockman, losing all patience, lets loose a long tirade condemning both the founding of the town and the tyranny of the majority. Naturally, he loses the sympathy of the people, his home is vandalized and he becomes the enemy of the people.

Life – more contaminated, to be sure – goes on.

Dr. Stockman quickly reverts from hero to villain because the solution he offers to a dangerous problem, a contamination that is making people ill, involves a necessary but impractical measure, spending money the town cannot afford to fix the sewers, that is perceived as an attack on an otherwise good institution: The baths provide sustenance to the town, and the continuing prosperity of the town depends upon Dr. Stockman’s silence.

Vernon Town Finance Officer James Luddecke may soon be viewed as an enemy of the people. The good news out of Vernon is that the Democrat administration of Mayor Ellen L. Marmer has reduced the mill rate in her next budget an alarming 23.7 percent; the bad news, if you are not a member of the Marmer administration, is that taxes on residential properties are expected to rise, according to a story in the Journal Inquirer, on average by 16.5 per cent.

“Town Finance Officer James Luddecke, who released his estimates today based on Mayor Ellen L. Marmer's proposed $75.7 million budget,” the paper pointed out, “cautioned that his figures were conservative,” very likely the only thing about this sad situation that is conservative.

The bottom line: Once all the peas are shuttled through all the shells, homeowners in Vernon will be facing a tax increase of about 16.5 percent. Town revenues are swelling because of revaluation, a tide that promises to lift all the boats paddled by Vernon politicians, while leaving Vernon residents knee deep in debt.

According to the story, Deputy Mayor Jason McCoy, a Republican, “called Marmer's budget address ‘smoke and mirrors’ and said the spending plan itself is balanced on the backs of kids and seniors.

“It's totally inappropriate to say she is cutting taxes when they are, on average, going up 20 percent, and spending went up 5 million,” McCoy said. “The value of the town's grand list significantly went up, but it still didn't pay for her spending spree.’”

Marmer has refused to mitigate the pain likely to be caused by a 16.5 percent tax increase by phasing in the charge. Other municipalities, similarly faced with steep tax increases, have agreed to ease them in; not Marmer, who has seen her previous budgets rejected multiple times in referendums.

Phasing in the increase, Marmer said, would only cost more in the long run and adversely affect Vernon’s bond rating. Besides, the mayor is convinced that Vernon’s taxpayers want to be plundered, as the paper noted, “in one fell swoop.”

Said Marmer, “The tax increase for a single-family home assessed at $150,000 comes out to roughly $1.25 a day,” a seeming pittance. “For $1.25 (per day) look what's being obtained here. I challenge anyone to just ride around town and see all the progress being made. The percentages sound bad, but the realities (sic) of $1.25 to provide this community with everything that's needed is really something to be proud of."

Riding around Vernon these days, as well as other towns that have not been able to control spending increases, sightseers will marvel at the number of home that have been put up for sale. Those “for sale” signs are markers of the price of progress – and burdensome taxation.

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