This time of year, you see maple trees being tapped. You see the first signs of flowers coming to life. You see snowbanks quickly disappear. You see the beginnings of the budget process.

That process tends to get started with the announcement of a really high number. Something that will shock the masses in preparation of a more “sensible” number. It is theatrics. It is gamesmanship and it is designed to cajole most people into believing that the elected officials did their best to limit the impact on the taxpayer.

Brunswick has started the slow roll out of what will be a couple of months of hand wringing and hyperventilating. The gnashing of teeth about the potential impact of the budget process. Recently this paper ran a headline that stated, “Brunswick launches tough budget season, residents could face an 11.6% tax hike.”

Pitching the idea of a nearly 12% increase is a brilliant move on the part of the school department and the town. By the time May comes around and the numbers settle down to 5% or 6% the town’s residents, or the two dozen who actually pay attention, will feel like a real impact was made. Those who formulate the budgets will realize that they got all of their must-haves and only lost out on those line items which were long shots.

For fun lets look at what a 12% increase would look like. According to one online index of home values the average home value in Brunswick for last year was a little more than $300,000. Not a shabby price. With a potential property tax rate being $22.04 per $1,000 of valuation, the tax on that little slice of heaven would be about $6,612 per year.

For those of you who get paid every two weeks that means that you would be putting aside $284 out of every paycheck just to cover your check to the town. Imagine what you could do with that $284, or at least part of it, throughout the 26 paychecks that make up the year.

I know what you are thinking. There are a great many properties that are valued at less than that $300,000 amount in town. Of course. But if that is an average then there are a great number of properties that top out on the higher end. Even on a property valued at about $150,000, your new potential tax rate would be more than $3300.

That number has nothing to do with your mortgage or your insurance or the other hundred things that you must pay for when owning your own piece of land. That tax amount is simply for the privilege of owning land in Brunswick.

Now imagine that you owed taxes on your property and it was valued at, say, more than $160 million. Your tax bill would be more than $3.5 million. That is a large amount of money but I am guessing that there would be an endowment that you could tap into. Right?

Oh wait, that is only Bowdoin College’s property value and they don’t pay property taxes on most of their property in town. I forgot.

The theatrics of the budget season are unnecessary. They really are. Like the bonds that are voted on every year at the state level, there is little chance that a town or school budget will face any significant scrutiny.

By the time you step into the voting booth in June the vote has already been decided. Like a good college football team on the gridiron, the budgets are undefeated at the ballot box.

If you speak out against the town budget, you will get painted as someone who dislikes maintained roads or the parks department. Miraculously there may be a gathering of firefighters that show up in their yellow local union shirts like they did last year during a vote for the new fire station. They sat silently as a reminder that our collective safety was on the line.

On that night the Brook’s parking lot looked like a used car lot for fire apparatus. Ambulances, ladder trucks and the like, silently pushing the vote.

If you speak out against the school budget, which is reportedly coming in this year at nearly $46 million, then you are shunned. Endless lines of parents, all well-intentioned, will be marched to the microphone to denounce anyone that even suggests that the school budget is too high. A classic example of budgetary bullying.

At least there was some degree of concern for increases last year. The overall increase came in at nearly 5%. That was considered acceptable by most but eventually 5% here and 5% there and soon you are dealing with a real increase.

Like I said the intention of this release of the budget numbers is meant to desensitize you from the real end number. To make you think that you should be grateful that in the end the budget only goes up 5 or 6 percent. If you are not paying attention throughout the whole process, then you will forget about what is really going on. The budget makers are counting on it.

Jonathan Crimmins can be reached at [email protected]

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