Monday, January 18, 2016

moving to mexico -- rendering unto caesar

Today it was time to pay the piper.  Foot the bill.  Pony up the cash.

There is a cost for living in a civilized community.  And I do not mean the usual utility and maintenance bills for my house.

Our public infrastructure in Barra de Navidad is not much.  But the little we have needs pesos to keep it running. 

Today was the day I settled with the local government for the coming year.  Car registration.  Property tax.  Sewer and water.  A list that would be familiar to any northerner -- but with some twists.

We pay our car registrations annually here.  On the same month (January).  In person at a very small office in our county seat of

The process looks far more daunting than it is.  My friend Lou and I decided to make a joint trip because he needed to stop at two of the places I had on my list.  When we arrived at the registration office, there were probably a dozen or so people in line in front of us.

Registration renewals were all in one line.  I learned last year that the clerk processing renewals has developed a very efficient method of scanning a bar code from last year's receipt into his computer.  That triggers the printer to add the necessary information on this year's decal.  While the decal is printing, he prints out a receipt, takes the payment, hands over the decal, and the customer is out the door.

Once I got to the window, he processed my request in what seemed to be less than a minute.  And the cost?  $458 (Mx) -- $25.20 (US) -- for one year.  Not a bargain in some states.  But owning a car in Mexico is a relatively expensive proposition.

Our next stop was the county building to pay my property taxes.  Paying property taxes in Oregon was always one of the most painful and expensive days of the year.  In fact, it was the looming payment of property taxes year after year with absolutely no return that caused me to sell my Salem house below market price.

Not so here.  The payment is rather painless -- even though the process is something out of another century.

There are no tax bills.  At least, I have never seen one.  I showed up with my receipt from last year.  With that information, the clerk located the hand-written ledger from a bookcase of notebooks that would have made Bartleby smile.

He then gave it to another clerk who created an invoice and receipt on her computer.  The first clerk directed me to another room filled with people who looked as if they were part of a rugby scrum.  They were just waiting for their names to be called.

A third clerk then took my money and gave me a receipt that I will use next year to start the process all over again.

I have no idea what your property taxes cost where you live.  If you live up north, I am willing to bet I may have paid less this year than you did.  Property taxes are one of the true deals of living here.

My 2016 taxes were $1,345.50 (Mx) -- $74.05 (US).  But it was a 10% increase from last year.  Even so, a good deal.

Amazingly, even though the taxes are relatively low, a large portion of property owners do not pay them.  And, in Mexico, the government has no recourse other than to recover the taxes when the house is sold. 

Or some of the taxes.  I have it on good authority that the local government can recover only the past 3 or 5 years (I cannot recall which) in arrears.

It almost makes me wonder why anyone would pay.

While I was in
Cihuatlán, I stopped by the bank (Bancomer) that holds the trust deed for my property.  Because I live in the restricted zone and I am a foreigner, I cannot own property in fee simple.  The Mexican government has created a  legal fiction that the bank is holding the property in trust for me -- even though I can do almost everything a fee simple owner could do.

The bank, of course, does not perform its trustee duties for free.  Every year I must pay a fee to the bank.  For reasons I do not understand, that fee is denominated in US dollars, but payable in Mexican pesos.  (For Canadians, during this strong US dollar stretch, that means paying a hefty premium.)

I paid the first year's fee during the fabled house closing in September 2014.  Bancomer has not sent me anything further.  Not even an account number.  Even though my payment is well past due.

When I stopped at the bank, I had all of the numbers in my deed and a fistful of pesos.  But I did not have the six-digit account number.  Without it, the bank could not help me.

A very pleasant executive told me I could get the number by calling a fellow at Bancomer in Puerto Vallarta.  She helpfully provided me with his name, telephone number, and email address.

When I asked her why she could not call him and get the number while I was at the bank, she informed me that was impossible.  Thinking it was a matter of cost, I offered to let her use my mobile telephone.  She declined telling me I would need to do it.

I should have called right then.  But I hate telephones.  I will call this week and return to the bank later.  After all, the payment is already four months late.  What is one week more?

My last stop was in Barra de Navidad at our city government office to pay my water and sewer bill.  I told you about this process last year.  Hand-written ledger.  Manual typewriter from the 1950s.  Very helpful clerk.

Once again there was a price increase from $1,367 (MX) -- $75 (US) to $1500 (Mx) -- $83 (US).  That is for a full year of service.  In Salem, I would have paid that for one month.

Of course, in Salem, the sewer system actually processed sewer rather than just swirling it around in pipes as happens here.  And the quality of the water?  It is good enough for showering.  And that is about it.

A wise man once said you get what you pay for.  And when it comes to local government services here on the Mexican coast, we pay very little and get very little in return.

But what we do get keeps the veneer of civilization tucked closely around our ears.  And that is good enough for a liberatrian soul like mine.