December 3, 2004

A few weeks ago my new tax assessment arrived in my mailbox. It is not a new story to Florida residents how our property values and therefore our taxes have risen year after year. In my neighborhood, home values have jumped up to 20 percent a year recently. That is great if you want to sell your home, but it is tough on many of my senior citizen neighbors who are now struggling to pay their property taxes.

It is a story playing out across the country. Even as states and counties hold the line on tax rates, the tax bills are climbing.

The Christian Science Monitor reported:

From Madison, Wis., to Bucks County, Pa., the local tax assessor is dipping deeper into homeowners’ pockets as real estate prices rise and states share less of their tax revenue with local governments.

With people starting to receive their 2005 tax bills, the levies are squeezing the middle class and senior citizens — leaving them less to spend on everything from restaurants to roof repair. There is also concern the taxes could particularly hurt the home-buying chances of the young or civil servants such as firefighters. States such as New Jersey now have grass-roots efforts — verging on revolts — for reform.

“There is a property tax crisis,” says Myron Orfield, a property tax expert at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. “It’s especially bad in states like New Jersey, Ohio, Connecticut, and Illinois, which are property-tax dependent.”

The story says:

Other states struggling with the issue include Iowa, Indiana, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Maine, and Vermont, and Wisconsin.

Some states are looking at the California model of capping property taxes so they rise only two percent a year. Others, such as Pennsylvania, are hoping to substitute the revenue from slot machines to hold down property taxes.

Some are looking at the Michigan model: It sends all property taxes to the state, which redistributes money from rich communities to needy ones.

Many citizens, especially those on a modest fixed income, clamor for relief. In Schwenksville, Pa., retiree Arthur Fairclough watched his property taxes rise 9.8 percent last year. “It will eventually eat up my total Social Security. We have enough income to cover it now but I’m worried about the future.”

Here is a story from near Topeka where property taxes jumped 16 percent and as high as 30 percent.

The (Allentown, Pa.) Morning Call included a story about a community that was raising property taxes 19 percent.

Next week, (Tuesday) the Waterloo, Iowa Board of Supervisors will vote on an idea to give a $600 property tax break to active duty soldiers.

House Stripping

Andrew Finlayson, News Director at WSMV-TV Nashville sent me a story I had not heard about. Thieves are hitting homes that are just about ready for occupancy. Cops call this “house stripping” because the thieves are stripping the homes of major appliances, sort of like car thieves strip cars of parts.

Here is a link to the Channel 4 story.

More Voter Registrations — Bigger Jury Pools

A lot of people will be finding out pretty soon that there is an unexpected “benefit” to registering to vote. They may get to vote again, this time in a jury room. In many states, the new voters will be in the pool of potential jurors.

The Cincinnati Enquirer
put it this way:

The 800,000 Ohioans who registered to vote this year signed up for more than the right to cast a ballot on Election Day.
For the next few years, their most important votes might take place in a courtroom.
Every new voter is eligible for jury duty, a civic chore performed only by registered voters in most of Ohio’s 88 counties.

Court officials in Cincinnati and across the state say all those new voters could end up having as great an impact on the justice system as they do on the political system.

Presidential elections take place every four years, but juries are at work almost every day, deciding legal disputes ranging from personal-injury lawsuits to petty thefts to life-and-death criminal cases.

Court administrators and others who work with juries predict that the pool of potential jurors will become slightly younger and more diverse as the new voters are added to a list that now includes more than 7 million names.

At the very least, they say, the bigger pool means more Ohioans will be eligible for an important but often time-consuming civic duty, making it less likely that those who already have served as jurors will be selected again.

“It’s a jury commissioner’s answer to a prayer,” said Tom Shields, jury commissioner for Franklin County Municipal Court in Columbus. “We should have less repeaters and a better demographic representation.”

Jury Pay

I did a little research and checked the National Center for State Courts Website to find out how much we pay jurors these days. You wonder how some people, who get locked into long trials, make ends meet.

Many states do not pay anything for the first day of jury service. Some states like Georgia pay $5 per day (although counties have varying fees.) Louisiana provides transportation if needed and pays $25 per day. In Massachusetts, if you serve for three days, you get paid $50 per day after that. New Mexico pays minimum wage. South Dakota pays $10 just for reporting for duty and $50 per day if you get sworn in as a juror.

Chickenpox and Mexican-born Adults

Reuters Health said:

Mexican-born adults living in the U.S. apparently have higher rates of complications with chickenpox infection than do U.S.-born adults, according to a new report.

Chickenpox can now be prevented by immunization. “Physicians need to assess vaccination histories of foreign-born persons, including adult workers,” lead author Dr. M. Carolina Danovaro-Holliday from the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C., told Reuters Health.

Chickenpox “is more severe and more likely to result in complications in adults than in children,” Danovaro-Holliday pointed out. The antiviral drug acyclovir, given within 24 hours of the appearance of a rash, “can reduce the severity of varicella disease and should be routinely offered to adults with varicella.”

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Al Tompkins is one of America's most requested broadcast journalism and multimedia teachers and coaches. After nearly 30 years working as a reporter, photojournalist, producer,…
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