Last fall the voters in St. Michaels signaled their desire for change; and elected three new town commissioners. In my experience, most candidates promise change, but few deliver. The St. Michaels commissioners have rolled up their sleeves and surprised us all.
People have reacted as they typically do to change, with criticism, anger, fear, and frustration.
But it is easy to understand why residents voted for change. My St. Michaels property taxes have increased a whopping 68% in 4 years; with an average annual tax increase of 16%; despite NO property improvements. In my 40+ years of owning houses, I have never experienced even a double digit increase, much less almost 70%. In hindsight, it is surprising that the “tax revolt” took so long.
Already, the new town commissioners have made substantial progress. They are identifying the causes of the sharp tax increases and investigating ways to remedy them. They remain focused on “righting the financial ship.”
St. Michaels Commissioners work essentially as volunteers, some not even collecting their $4,000 annual salary. Our commissioners represent the very best in a democracy. They are addressing the concerns of taxpayers, without personal financial gain, at the same time intent on keeping the character of the town. For example, they cancelled the planned town municipal building with the goal of replacing it with a more modest structure. They have initiated simple changes, like employee time cards; and are conducting a nationwide search for a qualified, experienced city manager. They are attempting to remedy areas where the residential community is shouldering a disproportionate share of the costs.
So how have their efforts been recognized?
With disrespectful, harsh, and unrelenting criticism; often from people who are not paying town taxes.
Our previous stewards created an idyllic town, appealing to businesses, tourists, and townspeople alike. But our property taxes are much higher than comparable communities (e.g., Key West, New Hope). In August, St. Michaels commissioners posted their most impressive accomplishment to date, for the first time, a small REDUCTION in property taxes.
This is not to criticize the work of our previous leaders and commissioners. They built an exciting, quaint, and charming town. But now is the time to examine the cost structure and help the St. Michaels residential property owners.
The actions of the St. Michaels commissioners have been very reasonable, and I am amazed how much they have already accomplished. So rather than brutalize these volunteers; why not focus on areas where both critics and supporters agree?
- We love this town and want to retain its character.
- The rise in the property tax rates is not sustainable.
- The residential property owners should not shoulder a disproportionate burden.
- We should work together to satisfy the citizens, businesses, and nonprofits that support this community without requiring the residential community to fund them.
Doesn’t that make more sense than nasty diatribes?
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.