January 25th, 2015

Laboriously reducing the size of the inbox

There was a point, probably in 2013, where I actually emptied it entirely. *sigh* It's been above 200 fairly consistently the last couple months, which I hate.

I'm below 125 right now, and hoping to get below 100 today. Therapeutic riding was canceled again due to snow. We haven't been since we left for Seattle.

Weirdest thing found buried in email inbox: an invitation for next Thursday to an apartment on 5th avenue in NYC across from the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It's absolutely legit -- it's associated with a genealogical organization I belong to -- but when I googled one of the unusual names and landed in the society pages of the NYT I started giggling. I showed it to R. and asked if he wanted to go (it would completely burn up an entire day, and we'd have to figure out child care because our usual sitter is not available that date), and he said if he went, he'd probably spend all his time walking around the neighborhood looking at buildings because that would be more interesting to him. And it's not like he lacks genealogical interest -- it's more the society factor. So we're not going, but still: funny!

ETA: I got it just under 50 (literally: at 49 at the moment altho I'm sure that will change). My daughter would like to play in the snow now.

ETAYA: We played in the snow, had lunch and she is now sort of playing Lego Hobbit on XBoxOne. Son came back from skiing but R. had to return to retrieve his skis which he forgot.

Inbox at 39! 28! Oh, and I found a great scones recipe, too! And even figured out how to get the one page of the multi page pdf out into a pdf.

ETA still more: In order to get rid of more messages in my inbox, I had to actually deal with the underlying request, which was to sign up with FollowMyHealth and then connect my kids' information through the proxies I was sent. Fun. Inevitably, that generated still more email. OH AND EMAIL FROM FB, TOO saying I'd logged in from somewhere it didn't recognize. Altho at least it more or less seems to work. Yet another app for iOS as well. I also got the Fire TV Remote app today, too (another email told me to do that).

Turns out my inbox gets large because I don't feel like grinding through this kind of detailed crap. I have also uploaded the scones recipe to my website and some photos to flickr.

But I did get it down to 23.

Property taxes in Detroit

In the course of going through my inbox, I'm reading some of the Lincoln Institute newsletters that built up over time.

Mark Skidmore wrote on of these articles and after describing the severity of the property tax delinquency problem in Detroit, said this:

"delinquency will abate when tax
payers perceive that they receive commensurate
returns for their money. Thus, improving the tax-
service package by upgrading core services such as
public safety will reduce evasion and lateness (Alm
et al. 2014)."

I have to say, I sort of wonder about this, especially since the appraisal value and tax value of properties in Detroit is apparently quite lunatic when compared to market value. On the one hand, it sort of doesn't matter what the basis is that you tax on, as long as everyone's property is inflated or deflated by the same amount. On the other hand, while people are generally pretty okay with tax value that is _lower_ than market value, they can often get tetchy about tax value that is remarkably _higher_ than market value (there's a sort of stickiness involved, basically, psychologically).

Analysis of the problem focuses on all the revenue the city is failing to collect. I think that is misguided.


"Property owners increasingly are re-buying their land in tax-foreclosure auctions and legally erasing their debts. Last year, 600 properties were re-purchased by their owners, triple the number in 2010. That cost the city nearly $6 million in unpaid taxes."

Furthermore, banks and landlords are both allowing properties to go into foreclosure rather than pay the taxes. This suggests that in every conceivable way, taxes are too high. Skidmore is arguing, well, improve services and people will pay for them. But where are they going to get the money to improve services?

Either enforcement has to get a lot more serious (which is probably not viable, because it is expensive and likely to generate enormous pushback internally and externally) or taxes need to be charged at a level commensurate with the market value of the property. If letting a property go into foreclosure and buying it back is a no-brainer financially, then your taxes are way too fucking high.

And yet, apparently reducing taxes (either by correcting the appraisal and/or tax valuation, or by reducing the millage) isn't under discussion. Skidmore acknowledges that doing either of these would _also_ reduce delinquency (and wouldn't require additional service cost, imo -- might even save money if people started paying the lower rate -- better the $5 in reality than the fictional $50? Maybe?).

"Lowering tax rates would modestly reduce delinquency as well (Alm et al. 2014). Roughly double the regional average, Detroit tax rates are at the state’s maximum of 67 mills and 85 mills [DEITY ON A POGO STICK WTF!!!] per assessed value for homestead and non-homestead properties, respectively. While a reduction would improve the competitive position of the city relative to other communities in the region, currently there is no discussion of reducing property tax rates."

"Aligning assessed values more closely with actual market conditions will also reduce delinquency. Mayor Duggan recently promised to lower assessments by 5 to 20 percent across the city to reconcile them with state guidelines. However, Duggan’s promised reductions are just a small fraction of the 80 percent cut needed to bring assesment to market levels, according to Hodge et al. (2014a)."

If you live in Seattle proper, your rate is about 10 mill, IIRC. Also, Seattle tax valuation numbers run _lower_ than current market comps; even when they were briefly a little high during the bust, they were never as far off as Detroit's. (Ripped from King County's website: "Levy Code: 0010 Total Levy Rate: $10.29168" -- that's on a condo on Cap Hill, for example.) 1-2 years ago, the mirror image unit in my building on the same floor sold. The price paid was 25% higher than my last year's assessment (I have no idea whether that unit had any renovation done and, if so, when it was done. I've redone both bathrooms and the kitchen but the renos are 9-15 years old at this point; if they had more recent renos done, that might be reflected in the price. Our views are the same -- trees -- and we have comparable parking.).

The next time someone tells you how Detroit has so much trouble collecting your taxes, look at your $300-400K property in the city limits, and contemplate paying $25K a year in property taxes, instead of the 3-4K you are currently paying.

Notches and Kinks in the tax code

More from Lincoln. This is a terrible explanation.

"A notch in a tax schedule exists if a small change in behavior—such as the addition of a window—leads to a large change in tax liability. Notches are rare (Slemrod 2010) and not to be confused with kinks, which are far more common even today. A kink in a tax schedule exists if a small change in behavior leads to a large change in the marginal tax rate but just a small change in tax liability. The income tax in the United States, for example, has several kinks. Married couples with taxable income from $17,850 to $72,500 are in the 15 percent marginal tax bracket; couples with taxable income from $72,500 to $146,400 are in the 25 percent marginal tax bracket. If a couple with income of $72,500 were to earn an extra dollar, its marginal tax rate would jump to 25 percent, but its tax liability would increase
by just $.25."

I've never heard of notches or kinks in this context before. They seem like a useful concept and assuming these are plausible definitions, yay. But I don't know whether I can trust them, because of the example given. The hypothetical couple would pay a quarter on that last dollar, true. However, the _increase_ over what they would have paid if they had stayed in the 15% bracket is a dime. I would think that the "kink" of moving from one bracket to the other, in this case, should be characterized as ten cents over what they would have paid without that kink -- not 25c.

It's a somewhat interesting article. I knew about the window tax. I did _not_ know how it differentially impacted multi family vs single family dwellings. The English tax code was truly evil.

Wow. The conclusion of that article is just about the silliest thing imaginable:

"The ideal, in principle, is a neutral tax that raises the desired revenues but doesn’t distort taxpayer behavior so as to create additional burdens. Such a tax is a pure land-value tax levied on the site value of the land—that is, its value with no improvements. Thus, the assessed value of the land (and hence the tax liability of the owner) is completely independent of any decisions made by the owner of the land parcel. Unlike the window tax, which provides a compelling example of the additional costs that arise when property tax liabilities depend on the behavior of the property owner, a land-value tax creates no incentives for tax-avoiding behavior."

Let's think about this. If the tax is purely based on the value of the land -- not on whatever the hell you do with it, that would appear to encourage people to reduce the amount of land they own to an absolute minimum. The argument is that land + improvement taxes _discourage_ improvements leading to very low intensity/low density use of land. But a land-only tax would have the opposite effect: leading to hyper intensity/super high density use of land, far beyond what the taxed population might or might not actually want absent the tax.

I'm now sitting here thinking, for the first time ever, whether I want to keep pretending that I like reading Lincoln Institute articles. I _used_ to. But I'm not sure I do any more.

One last one from Lincoln: land values in Chicago

Mildly interesting presentation of a suspect data set (historical estimated land values -- yeah, you believe that? You Trusting Soul), with an incredibly silly conclusion.

There are a lot of reasons to think that the way property was valued around the time of the first world war has powerful relevance for right now: we are well along a secular trend to return to denser housing for a whole bunch of reasons and many cities are re-investing in commuting infrastructure other than for privately owned cars.

" Our analysis also shows the strong role that history continues to play in the current spatial structure of the city. A result of this persistence is that land values from a century ago are better than current land values at predicting the density of the current housing stock."

The old data is surely useful, because there's a strong rhyme going on between now and a hundred years ago. But I would argue that has little to do with the "role that history" plays or played or wtf. The same forces that made some parcels valuable in 1913 are back in play now.

Travel planning

Having laboriously reduced the inboxes, I started working through travel planning for the year. First up: duplicate reservations for T-weekend, because I won't know where we are spending Thanksgiving until way too late to get the good hotels and/or the good rooms. Second: move the April trip to visit my sister to December, because our spring breaks do not coincide and her kids will be too busy with school stuff in the spring to be able to do much. Third: discuss what we are doing between when school lets out in June and when the summer programs begin in July. And start seriously looking at flights for that as well.


Fortunately, everyone (kids, husband, sister, sister's family) was all very okay with the changes to the plans. It is clear that I really needed to become profoundly bored to actually get around to doing this, because I've been _meaning_ to do a lot of this since November.