So the linchpin to Kathryn Goodick’s entire city council campaign – its very reason for being — is her story that when she opened her property tax bill this past January, she was shocked to see that it had “gone up by seventeen percent.”
It was that shock that started her campaign first to fight, and now to join, City Hall.
That mythical “seventeen percent increase” was so hard a hit for her that, on February 24 she went right down to City Hall and testified at a City Council hearing that she had been forced to cancel her plans to remodel her kitchen because that, we now know imaginary, “17% tax increase” had walloped her family finances so thoroughly that she could not longer afford to remodel her twenty year old kitchen. (City Council Minutes, February 24, 2015)
But here’s the thing. That 17% tax increase? It never happened.
At least not in the past ten and a half years, which is as far as the city’s online tax records go.
When I pointed this out to her, her eventual explanation was simple: to deny she’d ever said it.
I had heard her wrong, she claimed. She never said her taxes had gone up 17% in one year, all she’d said was that they’d gone up 17% over the past few years.
Perhaps, she told me, “you misunderstood my message.”
“What I said was my taxes increased 17% over the past few years” (words hers, my emphasis).
She’s reiterated this same story — if you’ll pardon my language — on Facebook this past Friday, October 23, where she posted (in part) “I never said my taxes went up 17% in one year.”
Except that she did.
I heard her quite clearly. And so did the other people in the room with whom I’ve been in touch about this.
But you don’t have to believe any of us. Her line — “I was shocked to see that my taxes had gone up 17%, and I don’t know about you, but my income didn’t go up 17% to offset it” — is clearly part of the well rehearsed stump speach that she’s given a lot. She says that she’s knocked on over 1,500 doors in Ward 4 during this campaign, and I’m willing to bet she handed that same line to 1,499 of them.
She even says it here (link). Watch it for yourself if you like. The money quote (literally, the MONEY quote), is at about 2:07.
Or you can save two minutes of your life and just watch the much shorter clip below, where we’ve set everything she says on the 17% issue in her campaign video to music. It’s pretty much everything you need to know. Plus you can dance to it.
Missing you’ll note, just as it was when I heard her speak in person on October 16th, is the key qualifiying phrase, “over the past few years.”
Because, she didn’t say it.
The Truth is Not Irrelevant
At the same time as denying she ever made the 17% claim, Ms. Goodick also labored mightily to change the subject from whether she’d told us all a fairy tale to her insistence that taxes in Gloucester are too high in general.
“Clearly,” she wrote to me, “if I misstated the numbers or you misunderstood my message, it is not really the issue.”
In other words: “whether the shocking story I tell at the beginning of all my stump speeches is completely made-up or not doesn’t matter.”
The truth IS the point.
Before we can all have a discussion about issues like taxes, property assessments or water and sewer bills, we need to establish some ground rules. And one of the first ones is no lying. Or misleading. Or dissembling.
That applies double when we’re choosing the people we want to run our city. Whatever their position on IC42 or Fuller, or the water debt, we first need to know that they’re people we can trust to speak the truth when they talk to us.
Eveyone is going to make mistakes. And when that happens, generally a simple apology and correction is really all you need to do. Here’s how easy hers could have been:
“I made a mistake, I’m sorry that I misled you. My taxes didn’t go up nearly that much. I’ll be more careful about this kind of thing in the future, but I still think taxes in this town are too high.”
And done. It could have been that simple. Then we could have moved to a discussion about taxes.
But insisting that it doesn’t matter whether or not she misled Gloucester voters with an entirely bogus story in order to convince them to vote for her — that’s a problem.
Honesty is not irrelevant.
NEXT: She Changes Her Story Completely
Then when the sun came up the next morning, she changed her story completely. A stunning 180 degree reversal.
At 5:45 the next morning Ms. Goodick wrote to tell me (paraphrasing) “Hey, you know what? Forget all that stuff I wrote about how I didn’t say my taxes went up by 17% last year and how you misheard me. You didn’t mishear me, you heard me just fine. I should have said that my taxes DID go up by 17% last year.”
That 17% claim that I’d heard her say in person, that she then insisted she hadn’t said at all, had now reappeared. Magic!
Here’s what she actually wrote to me that morning:
[One] more fact for you. My quarterly property bill for 2014 in August 2014 was $1,460.80 compared to my tax bill due on February 2015 was $1,712.93. . . .
Let me help you with the math: it is a difference of $252.13…or 17%!!!
She posted this same nonsense on her campaign’s Facebook page on Friday, October 23rd (but without the offer to help with the math).
. . . the fact is that my numbers substantiate that comparing two quarters in two separate years my taxes indeed went up 17%. Seriously look at what you are quivering [sic] over?!?
At best, either she never said that her taxes went up 17% in one year, OR she did say that and she was right to say it. It can’t be both.
Here actually however, it’s neither. She did say it and she was wrong when she said it.
Failing to Understand How Gloucester Taxes Work
So that brings us to where this mystical 17% number came from in the first place, and it’s pretty clear. She just didn’t plain understand her tax bill. Or how property taxes bills work in general.
Now in 2015 the only, repeat ONLY, reason all of our property tax bills spiked was the city’s decision to shift the cost of our sewer improvement project off of our water bills and onto our property tax bills. A dubious proposition if you ask me, but pretty much everyone in town knew about it.
That shift onto our property tax bills was put into the first two quarters of the year instead of being spread out evenly over all four quarters. Which is pretty much how it works in Massachusetts.
So her February 2015 bill was indeed 17% higher than her August 2014 bill. But then her final two quarterly tax bills of 2015 had a 0% increase, so in the end her actual property tax increase for the year was 8.6%.
Which is exactly what we’ve been saying all along.
But not what she’s been saying on the campaign trail.
What happened was: she didn’t understand her bill, and then she based her whole campaign on that misunderstanding.
There are a lot of ways to dissect this in more detail, but Jim Dowd of this very Gloucester Clam you are reading right now captured it best in the email he shot me after he first saw Ms. Goodick’s explanation for her “17% shock.”
I bought 14 gallons of gas last night on my drive home from the client meeting at $1.99/gallon (Beverly exit 19, motherfuckers!!!). It cost me $27.86. Holy shit, last week I bought 7 gallons at a total cost of $13.93! I’ve suffered a 50% increase in my gas bill!!!
That about sizes it up.
The “Evidence” — A Single, Incomprehensible and Meaningless Spreadsheet
At this point, the Cape Ann GOP jumped into the fray. Amanda Kesterson, chair of the Cape Ann GOP posted this at Cape Ann Online, demanding a retraction:
The author of this misleading article from The Clam offered to retract it once Kathryn provided evidence he was wrong. She sent the evidence to him yesterday, and here it is. We’re still waiting for the retraction, though.
Using that word in this context is making John Henry Wigmore himself roll over in his grave.
Trying to figure out Ms. Goodick’s nonsensical spreadsheet without assistance will just make your head ache, so here’s a marked up version that clarifies it all. It was sent to me by someone with an M.B.A. in Finance from UCLA. (If you’ve been following this saga from the beginning it will no doubt be familiar to you.)
Nothing in that cryptic and nearly incomprehensible spreadsheet says that Kathryn Goodick’s taxes went up 17%. To the contrary, it says, just like we have from the beginning, that her taxes went up 8.6% last year. And that was the most they’d ever increased.
The Water Bill Offset: Does She Not Understand the Missing Piece of the Puzzle?
Take a deep breath, we’ve almost gotten through this. But there’s still one more thing that’s really important.
It’s what economists call, and I apologize for having to use a technical term here, but it’s really the only way to accurately describe it — a “ginormous problem with your analysis you dunderhead.”
When the city did the big 2015 water bill/tax bill shift, the plan was to reduce everyone’s water bill in an amount that would offset the increase in everyone’s property tax. Pretty much, that’s what happened across the city.
So if you complain that you’re shocked, SHOCKED that your property tax bill went up but don’t account for the fact that at the same time your water bill went DOWN, you’re either:
intentionally playing fast and loose with the facts or
Either way you shouldn’t be managing the $100 million dollar city budget you want to get your hands on.
But because throughout her campaign Ms. Goodick has focused on only the tax increase half of equation, someone needs to shine a light on the other half.
The bottom line of all Marty’s figuring though is that, just as it was supposed to, the 2015 Goodick water bill at 10 Dogtown Road did go way down. In fact it went down by enough to offset nearly the entire amount by which her property taxes went up.
Taking into account
all the money she saved on her water bill,
the 3.3% increase in the assessed value of her home between 2014 and 2015,
the net effect of the 2015 increase on Kathryn Goodick’s half million dollar home was eighty-four dollars.
Eighy-four dollars. Seven dollars a month.
And if she itemizes her deductions, she’ll get an additional $499 deduction for the increasead property taxes she paid that she wasn’t getting for paying her water bill, and that deduction will more than wipe out that $84 increase. Bottom line: she probably ends up making money.
But even if she doesn’t take that deduction, we’re still looking $84 which amounts to a net increase in her 2015 tax/water bills of not 17%, not even 8.6%, but a paltry 1.4%.
Yep. Her combined tax and water bill increase for 2015 was a grand total of $84.
Like details? Marty does. Do check out his careful work here.
Good thing for Gloucester voters that all our utility bills are available online where Marty could check them. I wonder if Karthryn Goodick knew that was possible.
Not surprisingly, I hadn’t yet gone through the water bill part of this equation when I first wrote Ms. Goodick to ask about her phantom “17% tax increase.”
But now that I have, once again, I feel a bit misled. Don’t you?
It sure looks like throughout her entire campaign, knocking on over 1,500 doors in Ward 4, she’s been overstating her tax increase by a factor of 100%, leaving out the offsetting reduction she got in her water bill, and scaring voters all over Ward 4 with a fake story of a fake tax increase.
– – – – –
Stay Tuned. Next time: I’ll look at her claim that her children wouldn’t be able to pay the taxes on her house if she and her husband outright gave it to them. (Hint: This might be a wee bit of an exaggeration.)