Friday, January 06, 2017
greasing the skids of culture
It is the start of a new year.
For those of us who have chosen to make Mexico our home, it means paying for the local (and some not so local) services we use to live on the civilized side of the boundary between the good life and barbarism. And to be thankful that I am not paying for the same services north of the Rio Bravo.
My first stop in greasing the wheels of civilization was Tuesday at the Mexican post office. I have maintained a postal box in San Patricio for about six years now. It was a convenient way for someone else to mind my mail while I was playing the role of a tourist in other parts of the world.
I kept the box when I moved to Barra de Navidad. My Barra friends rate the service of the post office here as somewhere between neglectful and dreadful. The guys in San Patricio are efficient and friendly. And they are the source of some of my best local gossip.
The speed of the system is not the best. But that is a national problem. For all of this, I pay $300 (Mx) annually (the same as last year) for my box rental. About $14.13 (US).
I pay for the big trifecta in one place -- the local government office in Barra de Navidad. Yesterday, I had intended to take care of that payment plus three more. But this is Mexico. I made it only to one.
Even though the house is hooked up to the city water in the street, I use a well for my household needs (other than drinking water). But I put the sewer to good use. Our system is primitive -- and that is reflected in the cost.
The garbage I use a lot -- especially, with guests. We produce a full garbage sack of debris every other day. That matches well with the garbage pickup. It is not daily, but it is close.
The full cost for my annual use of water, sewer, and garbage was $1,576 (MX) -- an increase of $76 (Mx) from last year. About $74.22 (US). That low amount is one reason I give the garbage guys a generous cash bonus.
One of my least favorite times of the year up north was paying my property taxes. For some reason, I took a perverse joy in standing in a long line like a good peasant to shell over my hard-earned money to let the county and local governments fund their delusions of being my feudal lord.
The process is not a lot different here. I go to the equivalent of the county courthouse in Cihuatlán with my pesos. Usually, there is a long line at the desk to generate my billing. And then there is (usually) a longer line to pay the amount on the billing.
Not today. Darrel, Christy, and I were the only people on the payer side of the counter. We were in and out within four or five minutes.
Here is the best part. When we left, my wallet was only $1,846 (Mx) (the same amount as last year) lighter. Wait for this, you northerners who may have recently paid your own property tax. That is the equivalent of $86.93 -- for the full year. On my 4,000 square foot house.
And if I thought that was fast, I had a bigger surprise in store at our equivalent of the department of motor vehicles. Each year, every car owner must pay an annual registration fee. In our area, there is just one office.
Even though it sounds like a prescription for disaster (every car owner in the county descending on one small office in the same month), it works out like everything else in Mexico -- just fine, thank you.
The two prior years I have visited the office, there has been a healthy group of supplicants in front of me. There is no numbering system. Each of us simply paid attention who was there when we arrived, and everyone waited his turn.
Sure, there is always the rogue queue buster who thinks he is more important than anyone else in the room, but it works marvelously -- a perfect example of how libertarianism can work in practice. That is, if there could ever be a libertarian approach to a governmental office.
This morning, there was no need for me to put my David Friedman principles in operation. We were the only payers in the office.
There was a day, not too long ago, when renewing vehicle registrations required a minimum of two visits to the office. The vehicle owner would pay for the registration, then after a two week or two month wait, the printed decal would arrive from Guadalajara.
No more. The only system I have known is what happened today. I showed my current registration, paid my money, and one of the speediest government clerks I have ever seen in the world handed me my printed decal, and I was out the door. Total time? No more than two minutes.
I now have a new decal to add to the rear window of my car to show I have registered it for 2017. The cost? $496 (Mx) ($38 more than last year). There are not many American states (if there are any) where car registration can be had for $23.36 (US).
So, there you have it. For the total of $198.64 (US), I have a post office box; water, sewer, and garbage services; property taxes that are paid; and a road-legal car.
But that was not everything, I also stopped by Bancomer to pay for my annual bank trust deed fee.
Bank Trust Deed
Because I am a non-Mexican living in the restricted zone (and because I am not a Mexican corporation), I cannot own real property outright according to the Revolution-era constitution. But, I can hold a charade of fee simple ownership through the legal fiction of a bank trust deed.
The government pretends that the bank owns my property, and I pay the bank a sizable chunk of cash each year to maintain the pretense. The current amount is $522 (US). Yes, US. It turns out that a majority of international bonds and a lot of similar bank transactions throughout the world are denominated in US dollars.
My trust deed payment is not due until October. However, the only notice I ever receive that the amount is due is usually a week after I pay for the last year's fee. An almost breathless email arrived in late October informing me my next installment was due and must be paid or dire things would happen. The due date was October 2017.
Taking into account my ability to forget such things, I decided to pay the trust deed fee while I was in Cihuatlán today. Because my funds are in US dollars, currency fluctuations do not affect my financial situation. It would always be $522 (US) I owed -- even if one US dollar could buy 10,000 pesos.
And here is the bottom line. For one item, I paid $11,338 (Mx) -- on the same day I purchased a basket load of services for one-third that amount.
It is not the only reason (nor even a major one), but the bank trust deed is a rather good incentive for me to keep practicing my Spanish to attain Mexican citizenship. I still don't know if I will, but I should.
One of these Januarys, I will joyously omit my trip to Bancomer from my annual essay.
Even so, this week was a rather good reason why I love living in Mexico.