Curbing the Curb Fee in Schenectady

It’s a small victory: Schenectady Mayor Brian Stratton’s ugly tax proposal, called a “curb fee,” is dead.

Supposedly, the fee, which I described in my appropriately sarcastic “Curbing Fees in Schenectady” post, was designed to pull in some bucks from untaxed nonprofits who use city services.  Services like snow plowing and road maintenance.  It would have hit up organizations including churches, hospitals, and good ol’ Union College.  Of course the tax would have applied to homeowners, too.

It was a lousy idea, and I’m glad that it’s gone.  I despise the creation of taxes masquerading as “fees.”  But before the Schenectady taxpayer celebrations commence, let me urge caution.

Schenectady, like so many cities, is in a deep financial bind.  Cities are scrambling for revenue.  That means too many political leaders are looking for innovative methods of taxation.  It’s no surprise then that nonprofits are increasingly attractive as targets for taxation.  Take this quote from an Oct. 21st Times Union story:

While the curb fee is dead, the idea of having nonprofits contribute remains under consideration. Stratton stressed that encouraging the roughly 130 nonprofit organizations in the city to make voluntary contributions remains on the table.

There’s something about that statement that just creeps me out.  Makes me wonder how nonprofits will be “encouraged” to contribute.

Don’t get me wrong.  There may indeed be a need for certain nonprofits to pay for certain city services.  However, that is a topic that must be addressed with great care.  And it should be addressed well in advance of any budget proposals.  Simply blasting nonprofits with a huge tax bill could be incredibly detrimental.  Many of those nonprofits, already struggling in a tough economic climate, might be forced to reduce services.  What if they had to move or close?  I suspect that in many cases, the services of those nonprofits far outweigh the revenue of an innovative fee.

In the short term, I suspect that it will be left to a shrinking base of tax-paying homeowners to shoulder the burden of Schenectady’s economic mismanagement.

Speaking of mismanagement, I wonder what has come of the proposed $30,000 increase to Stratton’s discretionary fund.  I haven’t seen more about that… yet.

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