When is enough enough? Local government and its role

By Nathan Barton

A correspondent shared an article from the Tampa Bay (Florida) Times about a bill in Florida that would raise the “homestead exemption” for property taxes to $75,000.  That is a scheme by which the first $75,000 appraised value of a house is not subject to property taxes.  It is a way (theoretically, at least) to protect poorer homeowners from losing their homes due to heavy property tax burdens.  Since taxes for education are not going to be subject to the exemption, the average Floridian homeowner will see their property tax reduced by $275 per year, starting in 2019, if the voters ratify the legislature’s action.

The article concentrated on an estimate that this would take $619 million dollars in revenue away from local (county and city and special district) governments in Florida. The argument is that other taxes would have to be raised to replace this money so that these governments could continue to provide services.

Of course all these services are “essential” and therefore the money “must” be replaced lest Floridians lack what they need to be provided by government.

Essential?  By whose definition? Provided by government? Why?

The list of services provided by local governments here in the Fifty States has grown and grown for decades.  The claim that many services are “essential” has grown even faster. Many of these are services that people once either provided for themselves or paid someone voluntarily to do for them.  Today, most people take for granted that some level of government will provide these services, usually at taxpayer expense and not through fee-based services.  At the same time, many of the traditional “essential” services provided by local government are increasingly supported by fees, when they were once virtually all tax-supported.

Here is a partial list of “government services” provided by local (mostly city and county and town/township) governments. In some cases, these are services provided by state governments through local governments – and in some cases these are federal government services which are administered by local government. Many of these services are paid partly by state and/or federal funds with local governments having to match the funds (sometimes with as little as 5% of the total cost).

  • law enforcement
  • animal control
  • recording of property ownership records
  • road and bridge construction and maintenance
  • weed and pest control
  • punishment of minor crimes and offenses (by jailing, useful public service, probation, parole, etc.)
  • public health (and environmental) protection service
  • airport operations (including construction and maintenance)
  • unemployment compensation
  • employment (hiring) services
  • health services – especially for the poor and/or indigent
  • child, women, and elderly protective services
  • veteran’s services
  • elderly and other social centers
  • welfare for the poor and indigent and disabled/handicapped
  • parks and sports fields
  • recreation services (rec centers, social centers, etc.)
  • county fairs (fairgrounds and events at those fairgrounds or event centers)
  • water purification and distribution
  • waste water collection and treatment
  • solid waste collection and disposal
  • appraisal of property for determining taxes
  • collecting taxes
  • registering vehicles and trailers (and sometimes other personal property)
  • storm water collection and treatment
  • emergency medical services (ambulance, etc.)
  • fire prevention and fighting services
  • land use and planning control
  • cemeteries
  • coroner services
  • surveying services
  • emergency communications services
  • other communications services (cable television, internet, etc.)
  • judicial services (civil cases – criminal cases are part of “law enforcement”)
  • document recording services

The list could go on and on, but these are the most common.  Sometimes we may not realize exactly how much local government does provide. And there are also the outliers: counties or cities which provide even more: owning and operating hospitals and clinics, retirement homes, colleges and tech schools, and more.

But the question (with which this column ends, for now) is which of these services are services that (a) local government SHOULD provide, (2) that no other entities can provide, and (3) that are “essential” services to provide?

Can we even define “essential” for this?

Obviously, as an anarchist, I believe that there is NO service which only government can provide, and NO service that government SHOULD provide, but the details and the view of the vast majority of our society are factors that have to be taken into account.  So the major question is what are truly essential services that someone must provide, and that (for now) most people are willing (or tolerate) that local governments, not private (profit or non-profit) nor state/federal government should.

Unless it is possible to reasonably and logically determine what should and can be expected to be provided, and what is essential, these decisions will be made based on emotions and propaganda – which is probably happening in Florida.

More, later.

About TPOL Nathan

Follower of Christ Jesus (a christian), Pahasapan (resident of the Black Hills), Westerner, Lover of Liberty, Free-Market Anarchist, Engineer, Army Officer, Husband, Father, Historian, Writer, Evangelist. Successor to Lady Susan (Mama Liberty) at TPOL.
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4 Responses to When is enough enough? Local government and its role

  1. ExpatNJ says:

    “water purification and distribution”, “waste water collection and treatment”

    Sure, this could easily done by by a private company. But, there will be NO competition and exorbitant rates, as the local government usually assigns a monopoly to whomever greened the most palms.

    ISP’s? Satellite TV? Lots to choose from there. Water pipes? There’s only 1 game in town …

    Google “Alabama Birmingham Water Works Board” (‘BWWB’) for a real eye opener, and tell your friends to avoid that choco-city at all costs.


    • MamaLiberty says:

      Just remember that all of this non-voluntary government control is made possible because most of the people still believe that government has legitimate authority to do it, however much they dislike what is happening. And, of course, not everyone is unhappy with it. Those who benefit from government “jobs” and “free stuff” like it just fine. At least until their children are shot by the cops, naturally. But then it is someone else’s fault, don’t you know.


    • Nathan Barton says:

      Actually, except for the dense urban areas, even small lots (1/4 or even less) can have enough room to have on-site waste water treatment, with private businesses to haul the septage. Precipitation can provide enough water, in wet areas (Western Washington and the eastern states come to mind) on-site, as well as water wells in many areas with good ground water). But again, cisterns and water delivery (by private firms) is possible and desirable in many places. If you really try hard, you can eliminate most of your water use and sewage generated, also, bu things like electric toilets and very small reverse osmosis and filtration for dish and handwashing and even laundry and bathing. The technology is there – and there is potential to divorce ourselves more and more from government – and monopolies. And remember, that as government continues to go downhill, the quality of the water is a greater and greater problem. (Flint Michigan reminded us of that.)


      • MamaLiberty says:

        Never made the least bit of sense to use the same quality, the same water to drink and to water the garden… Yes, I’m sure there are many good alternatives to that. 🙂 Just need to get government out of the picture.


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