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Board's fiscal gnome calculates the tax bite

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government Updated: September 26, 2011 - 1:01 PM

The hot read for tax wonks at City Hall lately is a plain-covered, spiral bound breakout of neighborhood-level changes in tax bills for 2012. Look up your neighborhood and you’ll get a feel for where your residential tax bill likely is headed next year, even though individual properties aren’t shown.

The more than 100 pages of detailed charts are the work of Jack Qvale, who is in his 30th year as the fiscal gnome for the city’s Board of Estimate and Taxation. It’s Qvale’s job as the board’s sole employee to prepare the background information that helps the board set the city’s annual levy cap and authorize city borrowing.

Usually Qvale produces a few sheets of city-wide analysis that show how many taxpayers will see their property taxes go up or down at a given change in the overall levy, and by how much. But next year’s tax bills are complicated by the Legislature’s changes in homestead protection, so Qvale dug deeper.

He spent long weekends producing computer runs to focus on the micro effects of the mayor’s proposed no-levy-hike proposal as modified by the state’s new homestead scheme. Nobody told him to do it, he admitted. Rather, his self-imposed workload reflected his sense of what the board needed to make an informed decision. But he swears it’s a grind that he won’t repeat next year.

"He worked like a dog,” said Carol Becker, one of two directly elected members on the six-person board, which also has four elected officials who serve on it by virtue of their other positions. “Jack’s an amazing guy, and not enough people realize it, but he does such a good job that it almost appears effortless.’

His three decades in the trenches of city finance have made Qvale a figure who has developed his own quirky language to portray fiscal concepts that sometimes can be hard for a layperson to penetrate He’s 66, but the onetime federal employee shows no sign of slowing down.

Just over 30 copies of Qvale’s analysis were printed, but you won’t find it online. Despite crunching complicated spreadsheets, Qvale said, “I don’t know how to get it on the Web."
 

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