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Molloy: Beware, the Tax Man cometh

“Income tax returns are the most imaginative fiction being written today.”

— Herman Wouk

Friends, there's the spring season where we all get happy for blossoms. There's the holiday season where we all get happy for gifts. There's the barbecue season where we all get happy for brisket. And, of course, there's the tax season which no one looks forward to.

"Tax” comes from the ancient Greek “tassein” which means to fix, and the Latin “taxare” which means to charge or appraise. So, by extension, taxes are a way for the government to fix something that isn't broken — paid for by appraising something that isn't theirs. Yet no matter how well you define it, it all comes down to those three little letters: IRS.

The IRS is basically America's hall monitor — and boy does it want your milk money. Every April we write down how much we've made for the year and then the IRS tells us how much we actually get to keep. For most of us taxes come out of our paychecks every week. Kind of like a middle school bully that works on an installment plan.

I understand that we all have to chip into the community till, and I'm fine with paying my fair share, but I wish we could expand the laws a little. For instance, why can't I claim Miss Maggie (the puppy) as a dependent? I mean, between the the spa days, the vet bills and the dance lessons she basically costs the same as a small child. In fact I'd go further to say she's more expensive because there's not a city in the states that offers public schooling for pets. (Though how cute would that be to see her riding one of those little yellow school buses wearing a tiny backpack?)

Also, why can't my bathroom be used as a deduction? That's where I do my best thinking, so shouldn't I be able to claim it as a business expense? As I said, I don't mind paying taxes, because without them there would be no one to police the streets or plow the snow — and I for one am not about to volunteer to do either of those things, so I'd say that's money well spent.

Taxes also keep the streetlights lit and the water flowing through the pipes, so you won't hear to much griping from me. The only part that really bugs me is the return. It feels too much like gambling. Every year I fill out the forms and then immediately cross my fingers as my tax accountant crunches the numbers. But every single year it comes out different. Some years I have to pay extra and some years I actually get a check (I call those the good years.)

But like all the years in the past, it's time to test my luck and maybe, just maybe I'll leave with more than I walked in with. But, like in any gamble, the house usually wins.

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Our view: New Auburn welcome center's impact must be monitored

Getting $10 million from the state to invest in a new building devoted to tourism development is a big deal, so Auburn and Cayuga County leaders have been understandably excited to talk about the Equal Rights Heritage Center under construction in the city's downtown.

But something they've not discussed too much publicly — something that was not part of any press release or ceremony announcing the project — is that operating and maintaining this new building will be the responsibility of the city of Auburn. With the release of the tentative city budget for its 2018-19 fiscal year, we now have a monetary figure attached to that responsibility: $147,365.

That's not a small number. Just consider the city's proposed tax levy increase of 5 percent, which is over the state cap. That percentage increase represents about $560,000. The new welcome center preliminary budget, all new spending for the city, accounts for roughly a quarter of that tax levy hike.

Now there are some key revenue offsets, at least in this first year of the center's operation. About $15,000 in rent is expected from the Downtown Auburn Business Improvement District and the Cayuga County Office of Tourism, which will be tenants.

In addition, state Sen. Pam Helming, R-Canandaigua, and city officials worked together to secure $50,000 from the state to put toward operating costs. Kudos to all involved in the bipartisan working relationship that got these funds worked into the state budget.

But even with these offsets, city taxpayers are still looking at $82,000 in new spending from this facility.

That does not mean this project is going to be a waste of taxpayer money. As proponents of the Equal Rights Heritage Center have pointed out, this building can be a boost for the region's economy if it's designed, marketed and operated well.

But as the city looks not just at this year's budget but the long-term future for this new asset, leaders must also figure out some tangible ways to measure the impact. Data on visitors to the center — how many, where they are coming from, where they will visit, what they will spend — needs to be collected and analyzed. And the numbers need to be transparent to the public.

If that type of information is gathered, city leaders will be in a much better position to assess how this welcome center will operate going forward. They may need to trim (or add) staffing resources. They may need to ask for more (or less) support from the state. But whatever the case, it's vital that the evolution of this welcome center is based on solid facts and figures, not theories about whether or not it's actually making a positive difference.

The Citizen Editorial Board includes publisher Rob Forcey, managing editor Mike Dowd and executive editor Jeremy Boyer.