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Commentary: No Man or Woman Is an Island

By Mark Ashwill

Buffalo, NY – If you're driving, I suggest you pull over. If you're at home, make sure you're sitting down. I'm about to reveal a secret that may make your heart pound, your palms sweat, your blood pressure rise. Without further ado, here it is in plain English. I am willing to pay more in property taxes. Let me say that again - more slowly and clearly I am willing to pay more in property taxes. Yes, you can quote me, or visit the WBFO Web site, since seeing is believing. No, this is not the medication from my recent surgery talking.

In my assessment for 2005 I noticed a decrease in property taxes for the current year, and wondered to myself why, especially in such abysmal economic times? I thought of the economic basket case that is Erie County. Do I trust the county executive or the legislators with my money? As far as I can throw them... Can I afford to pay more in property taxes? Absolutely. Am I willing to, assuming the money is not frittered away on Viagra, taxi rides to the doctor's office, hiring useless but connected people who might otherwise have to look for a real job, paying the highest county legislator salaries in the state? An unqualified "Yes!"

Like most of my fellow residents in Clarence, I am not poor. While I could also afford a penny increase in the sales tax, which was portrayed as the salvation for the county budget and which the grandstanding people who are supposed to represent us bickered over like so many ill-mannered children, I prefer a tax that affects those of us who can afford to pay more. I reject taxes that penalize those who can least afford to. This is not sharing a burden it is placing it disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor.

It is a question of fairness, personal responsibility and sense of community. While I live in Clarence, I feel a sense of connectedness with my fellow citizens, my fellow human beings, who live on any Side of the Queen City, or in Lackawanna, Cheektowaga or Tonawanda. What happens in other communities, just as what happens around the country and the world, affects you and me in many ways, some visible, others subtle, some short-term, others for a generation.

Like it or not, the entire county is our community, not just the social class or race to which we belong, or the town or subdivision in which we live. Out of sight is not out of mind, it is merely an illusion among some of those who have. Quality of life, what we should be getting in return for our local tax dollars, is a regional issue.

In case you haven't heard, Erie County is a national joke. Talk about an image problem. Buffalo not only has snow, wide right, Timothy McVeigh, the Lackwanna Six, and donated toilet paper, it also has an incompetent county government that is imploding before our eyes. I'm sure that's instilling confidence in companies and individuals that are considering relocating here, as well as fueling the exodus that is bleeding this area white. As the alternative press has inquired, why hasn't increasing property taxes been an option in the debate over county finances?

It's time for spring cleaning in the county executive's office and the entire legislature. We need politicians who will do what's good and what's right for all of us, not just for themselves, their cronies, their supporters, and their relatives. We need (elected) leaders who are willing to make the tough decisions not just about making cuts but also about generating additional revenue (yes, raising taxes) and spending the money wisely and with a vision. Don't shed any tears for my affluent neighbors in Clarence, Amherst and other well-heeled towns. Even with a hefty increase in property taxes, they will still be able to afford their gas-guzzling luxury SUVs, multiple vacations and quarter of a million dollar homes. This is Mark Ashwill.

Mark Ashwill is an administrator, Fulbright adviser, and adjunct instructor at UB. He has lived in Clarence Center for 13 years.