Monday, January 26, 2015

citizen steve

I may not yet be a citizen of Mexico, but I am starting to feel like one.

Yesterday was "Render unto Caesar Day."  As a property owner, I now need to slam shekels on the table -- just like the rest of my neighbors.  That is, the neighbors who do pay.  A large number do not.

My dad once told me: "It is an honor to pay taxes.  And, then, you need to watch those shifty politicians like a hawk to make certain they don't squander your money."  He was a realist.

First, let me get a libertarian burr from underneath my saddle.  Thomas Jefferson, when he was not refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants, took a more Manichean Enlightment view than did my dear old Pa: 

The general spread of the light of science has already laid open to every view the palpable truth, that the mass of mankind has not been born with saddles on their backs, nor a favored few booted and spurred, ready to ride them legitimately, by the grace of God.
Jefferson would have pointed out that almost all services we deem as common needs could be better provided without any government intervention.

But I live In Mexico.  A land of many laws -- and scarcely any enforcement.  I suspect that is as close to a libertarian world as I am going to get.

In the meantime, I drive on streets paid for by taxes.  Water is delivered to my house by the city -- paid by taxes.  My sewage is gratefully sucked away to some unknown location, even though I can easily guess which laguna is its ultimate home -- paid by taxes.  My garbage is hauled away almost daily -- paid by taxes, and the occasional sizable tip during holidays.

And, because I want to be a good citizen (even of the permanent resident variety), yesterday was my day to contribute to the common kitty.  To pay my property taxes, my water/garbage/sewer fees, and to renew my automobile registration.

Because I do not yet have any of my paperwork from the house closing in October, I needed to stop by the realtor's office to get copies of the tax lot numbers.  No numbers.  No pay.

The receptionist, Olga, is a wonder.  Every organization has one.  The person who knows how everything operates and where everything is.  And they are usually in the lowest pay grade.

She called the tax office to determine what the bureaucrats would accept, and copied off a paper for me to present in lieu of my closing documents.  I was ready to go.  My friend Lou had just paid his taxes; I asked him to ride along as my mentor.

We pay our property taxes in Cihuatlán -- the equivalent of our county seat in this area.  But my water/garbage/sewer fee is paid right here in Barra de Navidad.

Before we drove the 10 miles east to Cihuatlán, we walked across the street from the realtor's office to our little city hall.  Because I had no prior receipt, the clerk opened a large ledger and found the entry using only the owner's first name.  One of the joys of living in a small town.

She then pulled out her manual typewriter, typed up a receipt, accepted my pesos, and I was good for the full year.  Water should flow.  Sewage should flush.  Garbage should continue to be toted off to a far better place.  All in less than 10 minutes.

One down.  Two to go.

The next stop was the equivalent of the county building in Cihuatlán.  Because there is a discount for paying property taxes during the month of January, I anticipated a large line.  That was certainly my experience in Oregon.

There were a few other property owners.  Not many.  Even though most of the payment records are recorded in large binders in the clerk's office, the full transaction took place on computer.

I provided the document Olga gave me, and was directed to stand in line to pay my fee.  When the amount was associated with my property tax number, a document was passed through a hole between the offices, and a receipt was printed out. 

Admittedly, it was a dot matrix printer.  But the system seems to be efficiently automated.

My money passed to the clerk, and I wandered out the door with my receipt.  Total time?  No more than 20 minutes.

Stop number three was not new to me.  I had renewed my automobile registration last year at an office a few blocks from the county building. 

Car registrations are a state function.  Unlike property taxes that are a county function, and water/garbage/sewer that is a city function.  (No one who lives in a federal system should not find that specialization the least bit odd.)

What threw me off last year is that the car registration office does not have a numbering system.  But there are always quite a few people waiting.  Mexicans understand personal responsibility.  They do not need to have a system telling them who is next in line.

People walk into the office, look around to see who is in front of them, then they patiently await their turn.  Neither Lou nor I have ever seen anyone jump the line.  Until today. 

A hip guy dressed like an itinerant jazz musician came in, looked around, and went directly to the window.  The Mexican man, whose turn it was, waved him off.  But the jazzy guy stood his ground ("I am returning") for the next customer -- me.

It didn't matter.  When I got to the window, I handed over last year's documentation and my registration fee for 2015.  The clerk handed back my decal and registration card.  I could not have been at the window for more than 4 minutes.

In the past, the process was not that efficient.  Payment would be made and the customer had to return to the office to pick up the decals produced in Guadalajara and shipped to the local office. 

The process could take one or two months.  Everything is now accomplished by computer right in the office.

So, how how deep a financial hole did all of those official transactions dig into my bank account?  Or, stated differently, what is my cost for being a citizen of my community?

Property taxes -- $1,811

Water/garbage/sewer -- $1,367
Automobile registration -- $445

Now, before anyone starts asking what happened to the assertion that living in Mexico is less costly than living in Oregon, I will point out that each of those costs are in Mexican pesos.  Here they are stated in approximate US dollars.

Property taxes -- $124

Water/garbage/sewer -- $94
Automobile registration -- $30

Pretty sweet.  There is, of course, a price for living in a bargain community.  Infrastructure tends to be just enough to get by.  But get by we do.  I would not trade it for the bloated inefficient tax system of The States -- not to mention Canada or the European countries.

There you have it.  My usual rule in Mexico is to limit projects to one (no more than two) a day.

But I accomplished three major projects in less time than the drive to and from
Cihuatlán, and for less than a week's worth of restaurant meals on our latest road trip.

I am now done for another year.  One of these days, I will be paying as a voter card-carrying Mexican citizen.

I hope.


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