Even in the midst of this brutal season, however, with the temperature and the snow falling faster than a teenager’s self-esteem at the arrival of their first zits, the very first sign of spring appears, rousing in even the most winter-weary breast the hope of warmer and happier days ahead. Yes, indeed, in the words of the immortal Shelley, and no, I don’t mean Tommy Kowalski’s sister, either, but the English poet of the same name; Shelley, I mean, not Kowalski, obviously, English poets named Kowalski being few and far between; “…if winter comes, can spring be far behind…” a line of verse that brings up all sorts of unrepeatable connotations when used in the same sentence as Shelley Kowalski’s name and can only mean that the income tax forms have finally arrived at the egregious mold pit that serves as our community’s public library.
Yes, they have arrived, a dozen or so heavy cardboard boxes chock full of forms and instruction books, all of them landing by the side of my desk with a thud, a crash, and enough boom to start an oompah band of my very own, all of them reminding you and me that while the snow may reach our lower lips before the winter is through, in a few short months the snow will have vanished, along with most of what you’ve managed to save this past year if the government has any say in the matter. Yes, we can hear the soft but soon to be strident call of the taxman throughout the land these days, reminding us all that before the purveyors of ICBMs and pig museums, snow removal and space shuttles, public schools and kudzu suppression can grab for their share of the tax pie, there must be some pie for them to grab. And it is with this great truth in their pointy little heads that the good folks at the tax assessor’s office go out into the not very mean streets of our happy little burg—well, the tax assessors think they’re mean, for reasons that do not surpasseth understanding, as you will see-usually with someone from the housing department in tow, looking for that now almost mythical creature, the taxpayer who can shell out more than he’s paying now.
Such a creature is hard to find; they are both wily and cunning, often at the same time since those words are synonyms, but they are no match for the intellectual giants of municipal government when the issue of police overtime is at stake and the tax base as it currently stands won’t allow the city to give the cops another raise. So they must rake in the public pelf in some other manner, usually by property reassessment, which here in our happy little burg is highway robbery committed by the city so they can fix the potholes in the highway they’re robbing you on.. This is a simple procedure in which the tax assessor says your house is worth more than it was a year ago and therefore you should pay more taxes on it. You can complain about the reassessed value of your house if you choose to, but your complaint goes to the relevant branch of city government, which is the tax assessor’s office, and they’ve already made up their minds that you have to pay more. You can complain about this arrangement if you want: it’s a free country and if it makes you feel better about yourself then, by all means, complain till you’re blue in the face…but you still have to cough up the money.
To add insult to injury, and why should you just be insulting when you can really screw someone over big time, the lads from the housing department will not only concur with the reassessment, but they’ll let you know that your house is in violation of the city housing code and that you will have to pay fines for violating a housing code you didn’t even know the city had. This particular twist to the story began in 1953, when the municipal solons, in their infinite wisdom, decided to pass a housing code. Other small cities had them and we wanted to keep up with the times by having one too, whether or not we actually needed one; civic pride can be a tremendous motivator. Of course, having passed the housing code, our happy little burg being the sort of live and let live place that it is, no one bothered to enforce it for forty years. Over the course of those forty years, nature, human and otherwise being what they are, violations of the code sprung up like skunk cabbages in spring, pullulating (and yes, I did get that word out of the Reader’s Digest Improve Your Word Power) all over the place. Some landlords had nine families living in a one family home, stuffing the odd relative into the closets and attic, and even charging the mice and cockroaches rent. No one is quite sure why there were no truly disastrous fires in the city during this period of non-enforcement, but there weren’t, which the devout among us credit to divine intervention and the cynical to our dumb luck. I am more likely to credit the blessings of the Almighty in this, as nobody’s luck is that dumb for that long.
Well, the slumlords, and some honest citizens as well, to be fair, shrieked loudly when they heard that the city was enforcing the housing code, reassessing the tax rolls, and in general doing things that a lot of people would prefer they not do, since it would jack their taxes up. The municipal government raised the property taxes anyway, and then reassessed everyone’s property so they could raise the taxes again; they needed the money, they said, and now was the best time to do it, now being only a couple of months after election day when the terrifying prospect of not being an incumbent no longer hung over the collective head of the city council, and the public would have four years to forget how much their taxes had gone up.
So, yes, it is winter, and no, I won’t go off on another long digression about my uncle, and the signs of spring are beginning to show themselves, and if this particular sign is not to your liking, well, remember that pitchers and catchers report next month, and nothing in life is as certain as death and baseball.