ID theft season
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Burn with care

A cold front blew through the Austin area this weekend. The key word here is blew, not cold.

Temperatures were in the 70s, and I'm not complaining. But I am complaining about the 40 mph gusts that pummeled us Saturday. Combine those winds with the drought we've been in for the last few years and the region is a tinderbox. Yesterday we had half a dozen grass fires burning around the Austin area. Thankfully, none got out of control.

Fire_1 As the winds whipped, the local newscasters issued their usual request in such circumstances: Burn with care.

That's such a strange phrase. I'm presuming it refers to the incineration of mostly lawn-related debris. But I always wonder who in the heck is burning this stuff?

Are they extremely rural residents with no governmental agency to pick up garbage? I don't think so, judging from how close to the city some of the fires were.

Or are they folks who don't want to pay the excess garbage fee when they have an unusually large collection of trash?

I cut folks in outlying environs some slack, although I have two words for them: wood chipper.

If you're in the second situation, facing added charges for added garbage, consider parceling out the debris over several trash pickups. I know when the hubby goes crazy with lawn work and ends up with a lot more pruning particles than he expected, a corner of our garage gets to be a holding tank until they are spread out over several regular collection days.

Yeah, it gets a bit rank in there, especially when temps hit triple digits, but we don't spend that much time in the garage, so it works.

So you pyromaniacs out there, just stop! Put away the matches. Don't toss your cigarette butts out the car window. And don't burn your trash. Pay for the dang extra pickup.

Part of the tax package: Most of the time, garbage collection is done by a local government agency and therefore paid for as part of a homeowner's annual property tax assessment.

In other instances, the pickups are paid for privately, such as when a homeowner association contracts with a waste management company and pays for the service via money collected via individual homeowner fees.

In recent years, as some jurisdictions explored ways to keep taxes low, they've removed garbage collection from the equation. That might solve one fiscal problem for the county or other governmental jurisdiction, but it creates other issues, as discussed in this Milwaukee Journal column.

And it could raise some questions about one of the most valuable homeowner tax deductions.

Every homeowner is well aware of the opportunity to deduct real estate taxes on their federal returns. In fact, this deduction isn't just limited to your primary or second home, as is the mortgage interest write-off. All property taxes you pay on purely personal real estate holdings are deductible as an itemized expense on your Form 1040, Schedule A.

But there are some limits. Deductible taxes do not include charges for services performed, such as a unit fee for water use or a periodic fee for trash removal. Taxes also don't include assessments for local benefits that tend to increase the value of your property, such as for the construction of streets, sidewalks, or sewers.

But when these costs are included on a property tax bill, even if they are specifically delineated, most people go ahead and count them when totaling up their property tax amount to enter on line 6 of the Schedule A.

Looking at loopholes: Last year, as part of its investigation of the Tax Gap, the Senate Finance Committee asked the Joint Committee on Taxation for some ideas on how to collect more money. The Committee came up with several possibilities designed to enforce existing laws rather than enacting new taxes.

One of the suggested options: To keep taxpayers from overstating this deduction, copies of local property tax bills and payments would be sent to the IRS. These statements would be required to break out any nondeductible user fees that were paid as part of that bill.

Essentially, it would be a system for property tax payments along the lines of wage (W-2) or contractor (1099) payment reporting.

I'm sure some local tax agencies might balk, citing added administrative tasks and possibly the need to retool computer systems that now handle these tax bills and payments. But this idea just might get some added Congressional attention as lawmakers in Washington look for ways to fund other proposals and still meet their pay-as-they-go mandates.


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