Widows to Wizards II Taxes

  This is part 2 of a 2-part series. Part 1 covered housing growth and its effect on widows, senior citizens, with video link.  See Part 1 Here 


For the past 6 years we have had the joy of living in an older neighborhood.  Many of the neighbors have been in these modest homes for decades.  Some though have been displaced primarily due to reaching the end of their golden age.  I’ve had the opportunity to help some with their finances prompting the telling of their struggles as Widows(ers) in a world of deceptive people I politely call wizards.

In case you skipped part I; My next-door neighbors consisted of a widower with dementia to the right, a senior couple in their 80’s behind us, a 50-something male with a brain injury needing assistance across the street, and an 80-year-old but, extremely vibrant widow to the left.  The demographics of parts of the rest of the neighborhood was similar.  Three of the five have died since we moved in 5 years ago.  I also converse regularly with a widow who is raising her grandson on her own in another nearby residence. (that btw, is not an uncommon scenario as I learned while being involved at a Help Pregnancy center)

As my primary form of exercise is taking two dog walks a day and working in our organic garden many conversations with the neighbors have taken place.  The widower next door, before passing on to heaven, would often repeat stories to me. I learned to not mind it and invited him to come and talk as much as he wanted while I picked weeds and veggies all season long.  He talked lovingly about his grandkids and the swimming pool built for them that I never once saw him dip a toe in. But he cleaned it daily.  His slightly younger brother and his wife live just up the road, they and his occasional visiting children were his primary caretakers.

I recently learned that they owned a piece of property across from his house.  Years ago, they agreed to sell it to the city in lieu of some homebuilder as they like-me believe in sanctity of space and caring for God’s creations.  The Mayor, who we joked was a ‘wizard’ said they had plans to build a park and a sitting area on the land if they sold it.  They made the deal, but were stiff-armed by the Mayor.  Today it still sits idle without the promised park.  Sadly, future planning documents have made the once deemed park a big purple line on a planning map set for future expansion.

The man across the street has since passed away. His house was sold to a homebuilder who snatched it up as soon as it went on the market and turned it into a rental.  For those asleep wondering why housing prices have skyrocketed everywhere; a primary reason is investors have purchased many single homes turning them into rentals or flips.  It has created a shortage of homes.  Much of the money is coming from other countries including China

The husband of the couple behind us passed away a few months ago leaving another widow.  Fortunately, her daughter had previously purchased the house across the street (of another person who passed away) to help care for her parents.  She is thankfully helping her Mom still grieving from the loss of her 60+ years partner and 40+ years in their house. 

A year ago they had to have structure work done on their house.  A rogue construction company owner fleeced them out of a large sum of money doing a horrible job of repairs and ‘disappeared’ after taking 90% of the fees without finishing.  I helped them find someone to finish the job as few contractors ever want to fix a botched job. 

After that I began keeping an eye on and offering help to all my neighbors as the wizards seem to knock on our doors with a con job repair-offer regularly.

Statistically the average social security check according to the ss administration for a senior is $1700.  Remember that as a measuring stick.  Wise people saved up and hopefully have retirement savings to live off of as $1700 doesn’t go far today.  Government employees get a pension and continue to live off tax payer dollars til death and sidestep the small security checks. Some folks get what the younger generation will never see again via corporation pension checks.  Just like the regular world, the top 10% continue to live well, while the majority try to get by on tight budgets.   Most of the folks here that are still alive are doing better than some parts of town, but not so compared to the newer builds.

Interestingly this neighborhood at one time was considered as one for the upper middle class. Yet now the 3–5-decade old homes are valued at mostly less than half of the areas $525,000 average home price.  They had been about one/fourth of that until the county a few years ago upped the taxable value of the homes sparking a controversial painful tax increase for all these folks.

Four years ago, pre-election time the current board members we have all touted smart growth and strongly criticized prior boards for over developing.  I chuckle at one of them from a quote a year before running for office. See her response to a man’s comments that sound exactly like what I wrote in part 1 has happened via the votes of the current board of which ‘Anne’ is a part of.

Our local social media pages are currently lit up with all sorts of exaggerated accomplishments by them.  Things like a new town hall, a parking lot disguised as a park, and a rec center, guess where all that money came from, hint -see my cover picture.  They counter the team of 3 running against them, who call themselves a cohesive Wall united to stabilize growth & taxes and put residents first, with vitriol that sounds like children in a playground. 

The so-called bridge builders spread their anger on social media at the suddenly popular competition have proven the only bridge building they have done is with developers.  Oh, I guess a few vocal (but not-local) business owners who think 1000’s of more homes will help their businesses also like them.  And boy have they spent money to keep the incumbents in office. I have received 6 ad slicks in the mail so far coming in daily with a week to go before an election. This is a part-time role paying $15,000, why is it so important?  It seems obvious, $millionssss in profit for land sellers and developers.

I personally voted for 5/6 of them and we were sort of friends I thought; always friendly on social media, hellos at parades and festivals.  I even sat talking intimately with a couple of them at a Veterans breakfast.  But suddenly we supposed friends and my neighbors became expendable to greed and power.  We were a statistic at best.  That was less than a year ago as I described what happened in Pt. 1.  Don’t think the same flip-flopping and now you’re an ‘activist and extremist’ label because you disagree won’t be tagged on you!  Local people in Waxhaw or to my readers out in the world – it will happen to you too.  But, don’t be deterred.

It actually started earlier but I moved on, that is until getting to know the struggles of my widow friends with the money topic.  I keep a Bible verse on my desk at all times to remind myself who is important in God’s eyes for me and those who care about others to follow:

 “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves;  ensure justice for those being crushed.   Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.”  Proverbs 31:8-9

It started with a huge tax increase, that to this day all 6 board members deny.   Most of us in the older neighborhoods got crushed with near double increases.  Here on the proverbial south side of the tracks we saw 50-90% tax increases.  What happened is the county conducted a property tax re-evaluation.  For those in newer neighborhoods the evaluations were near the same of what they paid.  For those in the older ones, despite zero upgrades to homes, in fact many have aged badly needing repairs (like my neighbor whose foundation nearly caved in) – the prices doubled. 

In the old days counties considered original owners property values and basically grandfathered the original costs of farms and older homes.  Instead, the county followed the real estate comps system (home value comparisons) to re-assess drastically raising up the prices.  The county and other local towns recognized what was happening and lowered the ‘basis’ tax rate to compensate for the huge rise in value.

Yet, despite pleadings from many my town of Waxhaw board members chose to ignore us all. Even the commissioner of the county’s (the late Stony Rushing who tragically passed away this past summer) attempts to help the seniors and long-time residents with pleadings for the tax basis to be cut were met with disdain from the boc. 

This Boc ignored him and others resulting in my tax rate going up 76%. No biggie for me, but for the 60-90% tax increase the 7 widows(ers) in my neighborhood and other seniors received – it was one more chunk taken out of their fixed income.

Consider that a $250,000 home doubling from $125,000 at the Waxhaw rate of .385 per $100 is $485 per year local tax.  The county was $990.   The Waxhaw board froze the .385 rate making the 2022 tax due $970.  The county right-sized theirs slightly making it a 40% tax increase to equal $1400.  That $2370 for property taxes on a $250k home.

Recall the average social security is $1700.   One and half monthly checks of a widows’ social security check goes towards property tax.  Thanks to the feds the minimum tax rate being 10% takes away minimally at least another month of their check for federal taxes.  2 ½ checks just for a house and fed taxes alone.

Additional developments will for the temporary cause the home values to rise again.  We all know though that with inflation that the cost of repairs for guaranteed breakages in home and cars will eat up more of that check, not to mention the seniors also get Medicare and Medicaid fees taken out their checks upfront as well. Adding insult to injury is the fact if you are ‘collecting’ social security; which for decades you paid a hefty fica and medicare tax. Today a senior pays taxes again as the government returns a small portion of your ‘investment’.  Then some congressmen insult seniors calling social security an “entitlement”.

So back to that delicate developer topic.  In North Carolina as is the case in most states we are follow a non-impact fee state financial structure; that is developers do NOT pay for any development infrastructure impact costs.  Our schools that are currently at capacity will require a bond issue to raise money (that’s called a tax) for new schools to be built.  It is so serious here in our town a school board member for the county publicly chastised our board.  Even the local newspaper n got in on the insanity as the school close to my home was featured as the keynote of the topic.  See the article here.

In response the wizard and his students said the school board is at fault for not being prepared to build more schools.  They also by the way blame the water company (who has had to raise water and sewage rates by 50% in the past 3 years to build more sewage line) for not doing enough.  It is also the bankrupt NC department of transportation’s fault for not widening our roads fast enough to keep up with the growth.  And of course, all of the growth – it is the previous board’s fault. Once again, I mention to read part 1 where I show they have ‘flip-flopped’ on growth decisions and repeated history on the latter. Only one-upping them with worse rezoning approvals with on the side of the railroad tracks where there is absolutely no place for the cars to go now, or in their poorly designed future plans.

Roads, sewer water, fire, police protection, town employees, park maintenance and all those fees are added to the current and future home owners or included in the rent of apartment dwellers. Oh yeah, for the northern readers who have never seen such a thing here we have a vehicle tax also which used to be non-existent, now the average car owner pays out $250 in their car license renewal that has mandatory local taxes added in per car.

I don’t even want to mention the rising insurance for everything home, auto, medical, dental, vision, health deductibles etc.  But, it is a must to show how all of these fees and taxes have detrimentally affected seniors, single Mom’s and families with lower incomes.

When all is said and done, the $1700 a month social security checks look like this.

We used to define an important word that MLK and others have fought for decades to overcome gen​trifi​cation –  which is the process in which a poor area (as of a city) experiences an influx of middle-class or wealthy people who renovate and rebuild homes and businesses and which often results in an increase in property values and the displacement of earlier, usually poorer residents.

Today it has expanded to the elderly and single Mom’s of America of all races. It is not just in big cities anymore.  In many small towns the decision-makers have drunk the kool aid of west coast expansion that has made their states unaffordable for the majority of people and turned it into a society dependent on government programs.  The effect on the elderly is heartbreaking.

In a study by the Oxford Academic  conducted in 2017 stated that gentrifying neighborhoods had doubled since 1980. I would imagine since 2017 the rate would be even higher.  A very sad note was discovered amongst the growing number of senior citizens in middle class versus lower class people.  While nearly all suffer from deep anxiety from being displaced, a vast majority of middle to used-to-be upper middle-class seniors suffer from severe depression. The lower class saw no change in depression primarily because they were used to such treatment.

In a town such as Waxhaw, and many others across America that follow this U.N. recommended Smart City and smart growth plans it is important for the younger adults to recognize what allowing gentrification like decisions have done to their grandparents. Help them, vote with them in consideration of their past as well as your future.  The middle aged must look out for their parents and their well-being.  And those like me, still able to speak, that are near the state of being priced out, trafficked out, and polluted out of our towns must stand for ourselves and those in the same boat, before it is too late.

It is more than standing up against the greed of developers and the power plays of politicians, it is standing up against the wizards who know more than everyone else (not even close). It is standing up for the senior citizens, the widows, the single Mom’s, the minorities, and the future of our children.  It is time to set aside complacency and understand it will be way sooner that it affects those you love, or someday, you!

Please don’t go away yet! Read below the red line for more. If this is your first time visiting Average Joe’s Portico, every post is written in two parts. You have just read the portion challenging the mind, body, and soul.  In or on The Portico (as in Solomon’s Portico or porch) , I seek to tap into your spiritual side, but only IF YOU DARE.  If you are in a mood of  ‘don’t shove God down my throat’, this part is not for you, it is your out. Otherwise Keep reading past the Red Line Below and read Part 2  for the Spiritual side of the story.  (For an explanation of this creative writing attempt – read the ‘Do You Dare’ Tab)

_________________________________________________________________________________In part I on the Biblical side of the story I covered the life of Philip who was assigned the seemingly demeaning job of ‘feeding the widows.’  But in God’s world it was a significant job and we saw that God used Philip (and 6 other lead men) in amazing ways to where he became the Billy Graham evangelist of his time and even took over the audience that was once wowed by a Wizard.  The wizard was really good at fooling people with deception.  But, God can see thru it all.

What strikes me in that scenario is the disciples picked out the cream of the crop to take on this task. The most mature men in their super-fast growing mega church.   Ask yourself honestly, if someone came up to you and asked you to take care of feeding the old people as your ministry and number one job in the church, how excited would you be?

Who do you think they learned this from?  It was none other than Jesus Himself who was the eldest son of a widow, His Mother Mary. Jesus picked Peter to be the leader of the church. You would think the CEO, and President and main dude, was also Jesus best friend, and most trusted cohort. Peter right?  

Nope, Jesus best friend and the man He trusted more than any other human on the face of the earth was John.  John, is called “the one whom Jesus loved” no less than five times in the Bible (John 13:23, 19:26, 20:2, 21:7, 21:20). John lived a long time. He was the only apostle to avoid martyrdom, although he narrowly escaped death on numerous occasions.

But John was not made President and CEO of the church, he was given a more important job first as we read in John 19: 25-27 “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son. ‘ 27Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother. ‘ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.”.

John got the task of doing what Jesus considered as more important than anything else. Even more interesting is Jesus who rightfully was to take over the family business but passed it on probably to one of His brothers instead, perhaps to James.  Their Father Joseph had passed away and Jesus was called out to do the small task or bringing salvation to the world.

It is hard to tell for sure but we know that Jesus had at least 6 younger siblings as Matthew 13 list James, Joseph Jr., Simon, Jude, and at least 2 or more sisters.   In those days you didn’t just go find a job, get married, move to a small town far away like people do nowadays, and live on your own.  It was important that the family business and taking care of all the kids and grandkids was carried out. Jesus as the eldest son was supposed to do that. He had to have passed on that important job as leader of the family to one of the brothers.

Similar to making Peter the leader of the church and obviously important job, one of his brothers handled the furniture store and taking care of the family.

But Jesus Mother we see moved in with John.  Apparently, Jesus was more trusting of John to protect His mother than towards His own brothers.  Something to ponder there that perhaps at the time of Jesus’ death he wanted to be sure that a person of full faith, one of His closest friends and disciples, took care of his beloved Mother Mary.

But later on, we see that James and Jude both, after seeing Jesus die and resurrect became ardent believers and followers of the Son of God.  I’d imagine the family disagreements that may have taken place with Jesus getting all the attention of everyone.  And we know, Mary travelled with Jesus in His three years of world changing ministry.  I suppose if I were one of his brothers, I would have a bit of jealousy, how about you?

Nevertheless, we see James like every believer became a new man after Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We see Him pen some of the most profound and passionate words including defining what pure religion is:

Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” James 1:27 NLT

Jesus cared much about the fatherless and widows and so did His brother James. Why, because all of Jesus younger brothers and sisters had their mother as a young widow and became fatherless when they were young.

We see similar statements from the book of Psalms:

Father to the fatherless, defender of widows— this is God, whose dwelling is holy.”  Psalms 68:5 NLT

 The Lord protects the foreigners among us. He cares for the orphans and widows, but he frustrates the plans of the wicked.”Psalms 146:9 NLT

Aside from ensuring Mary was well taken care of after His death, we see Jesus had passion of a widow; He raised a person from the dead, ho hum, the only son of a widow

Soon afterward Jesus went with his disciples to the village of Nain, and a large crowd followed him. A funeral procession was coming out as he approached the village gate. The young man who had died was a widow’s only son, and a large crowd from the village was with her. When the Lord saw her, his heart overflowed with compassion. “Don’t cry!” he said. Then he walked over to the coffin and touched it, and the bearers stopped. “Young man,” he said, “I tell you, get up.” Then the dead boy sat up and began to talk! And Jesus gave him back to his mother.” Luke 7:11-15 NLT  

What a lowly job, to take care of widows, NO WAY, it is extremely important and something that has gone by the wayside in the world today. 

I started with the topics of houses and taxes.   I was in business for many years and certainly understand the need for progress and having places to live.  I also traveled the U.S. for 25 of those years and have flown and driven in the busiest cities from L.A. to Denver to NYC/Boston, Philly, Orlando, Miami, Tampa, New Orleans, Austin, Houston, Dallas, Atlanta and everything in between living in a burb of a city of 3 million people. The U.S. the land of the free and home of the brave has turned into a massive slab of blacktop roadways and concrete buildings and now is turning every small town into the same cookie cutter puzzle pieces.  

It is not exactly the same thing but in the book of Esther there was a group of people that were literally going to annihilate an entire group of people.  The intent was to take all their possessions, bulldozer their properties, and cause harm to the people.  A woman who had won the favor of the King and became the Queen was presented with what the not-so-nice wizards had planned.  Certainly, a town council has no plan of physical harm.  But, in the midst of people jockeying for power too often the forgotten people can be shoved aside and hurt.  Are we to just roll over in the comfort of our mini-palaces, be it large or small and do nothing, say nothing, or see the call to stand up for those who cannot speak to themselves.

Esther was presented with a dilemma “If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?

Whether it be a little town controversy, or something as major as literally the nation of Israel being attacked like it is right now are we or you ones to keep quiet. Or will we speak on their behalf and even risk our gulp, reputation or more to help those who cannot speak for themselves. In our situation, many of the people don’t even know they are about to lose their homes; thus, I write. I post on social media. I pass out flyers.  I tell all my neighbors and the people in my church and those at the grocery store.  We have to do something, vote for change.

What is happening in your world that you would just like to keep quiet about, but you know you can’t be silent?   What will you do? 

P.S. – Please make a comment or ask a question in the block below that says ‘I’d love to hear your comments on this topic’.  Anonymous is fine but be rated pg as I have a delete button. We all love interaction and opinions from readers and I don’t claim to be an expert on anything. I do not like pop-up ads, sign-up requests, book/conference promos, and requests for donations everywhere, don’t you?   But, getting the word out about new posts for a 100% free-to-you website is a tough task on social media.  If you would like to be notified about new posts and occasional insiders-only heart-pours, pop me a quick email to JoesPortico@gmail.com, and I’ll add you to my mailing list.

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