Mayors across the country are noted for dwelling on the positives of their cities, and we think that is appropriate. After all, mayors should be proud to live in the cities they are representing.
Locally, Mayor Allan Kauffman has been an erstwhile champion for Goshen and its many wonderful attributes. And on Thursday, during his State of the City address, he once again ran through the many accomplishments of his staff, local entrepreneurs and the projects that have been accomplished.
We too have proudly touted those accomplishments during the past few years. We have also written about how Goshen has evolved into an artsy, active community with infrastructure and amenities that few other cities our size have.
But there is a challenge ahead, which the mayor, as caretaker of the city government, rightly pointed out. That challenge will be to maintain the city’s infrastructure and services as the full impact of the state’s property tax caps take hold.
The real concern is not just the caps, but also includes the reduction in the assessed value of property in Goshen that has occurred during and since the recession. Businesses have closed, homes have be foreclosed, few new homes and commercial structures have been built and because of all that, assessed values have declined.
The mayor said one additional problem is that many property owners are behind on paying their taxes.
When all those conditions are combined, the mayor said Goshen will receive $10.7 million in property taxes this year. That’s far below the $13 million the city received in the pre-recession year of 2008.
This lack of revenue spells trouble with a capital T. While not the only reason our city has grown, even during and after the recession, and why both retail and industries are now expanding in Goshen, our city services and the infrastructure we have are key ingredients in our economic health. In the past the city has been able to provide adequate water and sewer lines to industries, create new roadways to those industries and provide good fire and police protection throughout the community.
Goshen has been able to expand its bicycle/pedestrian network, which has drawn thousands of people outside to enjoy the trails and interact with fellow residents. Our parks are well maintained and potholes get filled pretty quick. In other words, the City Council and mayor have been able to provide the necessities of everyday life for Goshen residents while improving the quality of life. That’s all been due to adequate funding of government services.
But we are now worried that the Hoosier zeal to save tax dollars by putting the tax caps in the Constitution, combined with the economic downturn, may have harmful effects on our city. The mayor has sounded the alarm bell, so we should not be surprised if he asks the City Council for a trash collection fee to boost revenues.
We don’t think there is widespread support for such a fee, but residents should be aware that city government cannot keep providing services unless those services are funded in some way.