I was talking to Commissioner Mark Hosty the other day about the Altenheim property and the public meeting held on Feb. 23 to generate ideas about what to do with the property.
He said everyone would like the village to retain ownership of the complete Altenheim parcel, but when asked if they are willing to have their taxes raised by $50-$100 annually to pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on the loan, hardly anyone is for that.
Now I can talk smart because, unlike Commissioner Hosty, I don’t have the fiduciary responsibility of balancing the village’s books every year. Still, 20 years from now, I don’t want to write a column saying, “We should have hung on to the whole thing.”
Here’s my thinking: If American culture were to need glasses, it would be for short-sightedness. Stockholders are obsessed with quarterly profits instead of the long haul. Chicago sports fans want a winner this year! When we order a pizza, we expect the delivery guy to be ringing our doorbell within 30 minutes.
Imagine how many votes a politician would have gotten last night if she declared that the economic recovery is going to take a long time and we’ll have to accept lower incomes for the next six years before we can see light at the end of the tunnel.
Remember the Mary Tyler Moore Show? In one episode, Ted Baxter and his wife are in the process of applying to adopt a baby. In one of the scenes, Ted storms into the press room, complaining that the adoption agency said they would have to wait nine months before they could get a child. “Whoever heard of waiting nine months for a baby?!” Ted says.
One problem with being in the midst of a recession, as I see it, is that it fosters a tendency to view all of life through the lens of scarcity. That lens, of course, has been fairly accurate for many of us, at least when our present situation is compared to what we had in 2007. My home, for example, is worth 40% less than when I bought it five years ago.
We did the opposite during the bubble years preceding the crash. We paid too much for housing, because we assumed the value of our homes would increase by 10 percent a year. We were viewing all of life through the prosperity lens.
The recent recession has been difficult for most of us and downright scary for some of us. But I’m arguing here that the scarcity lens might be too short-sighted. When our village leaders made the decision to purchase the Altenheim property, the lens they were looking through was that of prosperity. That lens was short-sighted as well.
To be clear-sighted, we need to view reality through both lenses. Joseph advised Pharaoh that there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of scarcity – and, I might add, followed by seven years of plenty followed by another period of scarcity. The trick is to keep in mind during a recession that prosperity will return and during the good times that “this won’t last forever.”
I’ve been riding the economic roller coaster for 64 years now. I’ve learned not to base my view of the future from the perspective of the lowest lows or the highest highs. Tax revenue will increase as the economy picks up again. It won’t be as hard to balance the village budget in two years as it is right now.
If I’m right, paying for the whole Altenheim property won’t squeeze our budget as much a few years from now. The trick is to not overreach when times are good.
It’s not irresponsible to invest in the future. Many farmers go into debt every spring in order to pay for the seed, fertilizer and fuel needed to put their crops in. If they’ve invested well and the weather cooperates, the income from their harvest will more than offset the short term debt they incurred in the spring.
I’m willing to live with an increase in taxes in order to keep the Altenheim jewel in the family. I think that is the far-sighted thing to do.