Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Cities

I live near the very edge of one Texas county. Property right behind ours is in our county, but barely. This being the case, my family and I have become very familiar with the differences from one county to another. Over the last eighteen years, we’ve had good reasons to be grateful that we ended up in our county, instead of the neighboring one.

To maintain some semblance of anonymity, let’s call the counties Ajax and Bristol. Why? I don’t know. They’re the first two words that popped into my head. Whatever.

We live in Ajax County, which is on the far side of the nearest big city. Bristol County separates us from that big, booming center of population growth, as do a few smaller communities between Bristol and the city. There’s a nice buffer between The Homestead and the big city, and we’re just fine with that.

Because Bristol is considered a suburb, of sorts, of the city, its residents are required to put their vehicles through emissions testing. If your car flunks the emissions test, which is part of the state inspection, you do not get your sticker. Your vehicle is no longer road legal, and you must either make repairs to bring it up to the county’s standards or buy another car or truck. This inspection, by the way, is significantly more expensive than the one in Ajax County. We pay fewer than fifteen dollars a year; Bristol residents pay more than forty per year.

Oh, and there’s no easy way to get around the emissions testing. If your vehicle is registered in an emissions-testing county, then you have to have the emissions test. This seems like a small financial burden to bear, but that money adds up if you have more than one vehicle, and if your current ride flunks the inspection. When the emissions testing first started in Texas years ago, almost-new cars were failing. The state had to lower the standards so that peoples’ vehicles would actually pass. But even so, older cars will fail, because they just don’t have the newer equipment that lowers emissions.

Bristol residents have other problems, too, like the fact that they must pay a dine-in or carry-out tax every time they go anywhere near a restaurant. This is in addition to the sales tax, which applies to fast food where I live. When I buy a one-dollar cheeseburger from a Bristol drive-thru’s dollar menu, the total is closer to $1.25 than to the $1.07 I pay in my own county for the exact-same burger from the same restaurant chain.

Not long ago, during local elections, Bristol-county candidates were promising to solve the problem of their excessive taxes. That county currently charges the maximum that they may legally charge for everything they possibly can. Short of breaking laws, they cannot possibly stick their residents or visitors for even one more penny in taxes. Property taxes. Food taxes. Fuel taxes. Everything is maxed out, and the people Bristol County elected did not, in fact, solve the problem. Residents are still coughing up cash left and right to pay taxes for just about everything. They’re sick of this, and they’ve been complaining for quite some time, but their situation hasn’t improved yet.

The sorry sacks of fecal matter didn’t stop in Bristol County, either. They decided that, because residents along the county line send kids to their county’s school district, homeowners and property owners should pay both Ajax and Bristol County taxes! That’s right, folks: for years, we coughed up taxes to Bristol County, because the greedy soul suckers weren’t content with bleeding their own residents dry. This finally changed, recently, after lots of fighting and time in court, but we Ajax County folks were none too thrilled for quite some time there.

Ajax County, on the other hand, doesn’t have those kinds of problems. Yes, we’re taxed, but not nearly as heavily as our neighbors are. We’re living a lot cheaper than they are because our county’s government isn’t milking us to death several cents at a time. And we’ve escaped the Bristol taxes, which has made all our lives a little more comfortable.

My part of Texas isn’t perfect. We do have problems, like an infestation of meth labs all over the county. But when you’re looking for your spot of land in the middle of nowhere to build your bunker so that you can ride out the coming problems, keep in mind that a tract of land just a hundred yards or so from the one that you’re checking out could, over time, end up being the better deal – even if that one costs a bit more money to purchase.

I’d look at tax increases over time to see how tax hikes have gone, historically, in whatever county you’re investigating. If the county has a habit of raising taxes infrequently, but by large amounts, you might be happier in a county that tends to raise taxes frequently by small percentages. Or maybe you prefer things the other way around. Whatever the case, knowing before you buy will save you some headaches.

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“All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”
-George OrwellAnimal Farm