"There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers."- Proverbs 6:16-19
In a recent Town Meeting, the town of Camden raised their property taxes. This latest Selectmen action increased the property tax burden to over 20%.
Unfortunately, the advantages of paying higher taxes for the overall good of the community has fallen drastically while the cost of municipal budget has been expanding. In 2008, 64% of our property taxes was used to support our schools, 8% was used to support county government, and 28% was used to fund Camden's municipal budget.
Because of a Town Meeting that occurred on 6/15/2016, only 60% of the budget will go to the schools. Municipal and Solid Waste Disposal account for 8%, and Tax Increment Financing (a public financing method that is used as a subsidy for redevelopment, infrastructure, and other community-improvement projects) has exploded to 32%.
No one wants to see their property taxes increase. Many of the town's residents were unaware of the tax increase, and many do not even remember their being a ballot for such a measure. So why exactly did this occur?
In June of this year, the Board of Selectmen usage of Tax money became apparent:
In 2015, the Camden Snow Bowl, a small, community-owned ski area, had a deficit $81,000. The management stated they had a $216,303 loss in fiscal year 2016. Facing a $297,00 deficit, the Camden Board of Selectmen spent an additional $70,000 to purchase a new snow-making air compressor.
This measure was promoting the investment as a way to save money over the long-term, since, according to their calculations, owning a compressor would be less costly than leasing it.
Regardless of their promotion of this expenditure, it was quite likely that the majority of Camden residents would vote against the measure.
Was this another example of gross mismanagement and nepotism in our local political system? When I called the Pastor of the Chestnut Street Baptist Church to ask about this, he relayed to me the it is better to "leave well enough alone because you never know what may happen."
This answer should not have surprised me. In a previous experience, I had asked this same pastor about another issue I was personally experiencing and seeking his advice about a situation involving my job. His reply to that inquiry was simply that I should move back to where I came from.
The Chestnut Street Baptist Church had requested $75,000 of our tax dollars for its steeple restoration fund. According to the church, there is an antiquated law that the town of Camden "owns" the clock that resides in the church's steeple. It was in the ruling of the Resources Committee that Camden taxpayers should be responsible not only for the maintenance of the clock, but also for the renovation of the entire section of the steeple that the clock resides in.
The Board of Selectmen agreed, Chestnut Street Baptist Church had many active voters in this community, but not enough to approve if it came to a vote in this Municipality.
“The Seven Social Sins are: Wealth without work. Pleasure without conscience. Knowledge without character. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Worship without sacrifice. Politics without principle."
-From a sermon given by Frederick Lewis Donaldson in Westminster Abbey, London, on March 20, 1925
To pass the spending measures, they decided not to put them on a paper ballot. They decided to use an archaic practice of a "raised hand vote" at the annual Camden town meeting. As with many Municipal Town Meetings across the country, the Board of Selectmen knew very few of the voting public would attend, let alone be aware of the gathering.
In a move of horrible brilliance that is common in the Congress of the United States, they added these expenditures as "riders" (unrelated to the subject matter of bills to which they are attached) for a drainage project on Harden Avenue, that also included sewer pipe maintenance and new boat docking floats.
When the town manager was asked why these spending initiatives were not on a paper ballot she stated:
"The town had decided that it wanted to increase the number of people who attend the town meeting."- quoted from an interview done by Gian-Angelo Gallace, Oct 13, 2016
Unfortunately, this appears to be another example of the representatives of the "Well To Do" people, who believe they are entitled, succeeding in disenfranchising the majority of voters who are of a lower economic class in order to approve questionable spending habits.
The town meeting was held on June 14 in the Camden Opera House Auditorium, a performance space that seats about 200 people. Nearly a third of those in attendance were members of Chestnut Street Baptist Church.
A motion was made to allow voting of each spending proposal to be individual. Unfortunately, it was easily voted down by the Baptist Church Congregation and Snow Bowl promoters. Because of the various dependencies that the spending initiative had for those that were present, the measure was passed. By not passing the measure, those present also had worries that the measure on storm drains and sewer upgrades would not happen.
So, with the knowledge of archaic legal voting practices, precious tax money is being funneled to special interest groups that represent a poorly managed community owned ski area, and a religious organization, specifically the Chestnut Street Baptist Church.
When asked, a member of the Camden Select Board had this to say about the situation:
"First, he stated that he had little sympathy for those who are being forced to sell their homes because they make a lot of money when they sell." He also said that people shouldn’t complain about Camden’s taxes because they are not that high compared to those paid by property owners in Rockland. And as to whether the extremely high taxes on waterfront property is acceptable, he smiled and said, "we don’t want to kill the golden goose."- quoted from an interview done by Gian-Angelo Gallace, Oct 13, 2016
This is not the only time this has happened. In the past, when a group of United States Veterans went to the Town Office in Camden to complain on their tax increases, they were told:
"If you cannot pay your taxes, then move."
In my mind, this leads to the question not only about the way my town handles its relationship with its voters, but in the nature of how this reflects with our expectations of the people we elect in county, state, and federal government. If we care so little about what happens politically in our municipalities, how much less we must care about governmental bodies physically further removed from ourselves.
It is not that the Camden Board of Selectmen did anything illegal, but I believe the definition of corruption explains what I had witnessed:
Cor·rup·tion; the process by which something, typically a word or expression, is changed from its original use or meaning to one that is regarded as erroneous or debased. synonyms: alteration, bastardization, debasement, adulteration (from http://en.oxforddictionaries.com)
“Eternal Vigilance is the price of Liberty”- Thomas Jefferson