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Citizen Altman's tax decision bad for candidate Altman's policies

Published Sep. 27, 2005

Former New Port Richey Mayor Peter Altman's name is synonymous with many superlatives. Leader. Visionary. Dedication. Now add another description: Tax delinquent.

Altman's tardiness on $2,000 in property tax bills is a poor reflection on his decision-making skills. He took a pass on meeting a public obligation because of the favorable interest rates assessed to delinquents.

We note that Altman is in the minority on his thinking. Paying your local school and government taxes is an obligation that 95 percent of the property owners in the county make each year.

Altman, an accountant by profession, and Democratic candidate for District 5 County Commission, said he opted for delinquency because of cash flow problems tied to his family's move to a riverside residence on Lafayette Street. He told Times staff writer Alisa Ulferts he and his family put their money into improving the house on which they have a lease to buy and have not yet sold their former home.

The reason is plausible. The motive is problematic. It is difficult to champion expanding the tax base as a key platform plank when you're not holding up your end.

Regrettably for Altman's candidacy, the tax issue likely will add ammunition to unfounded allegations that the capital spending he promoted in New Port Richey left the city in financial straits. The city's current budget woes can't be attributed accurately to a pocket park, James E. Grey Preserve or downtown improvements. A stagnant tax base, increased labor costs, a higher-than-expected construction price tag for a new police station, and past reliance on accumulated reserves instead of new revenues, are at the heart of the current dilemma.

However, Altman's record of personal property tax payments is a legitimate campaign issue despite his protests to the contrary. It is indicative of a lapse in judgment, a fair criticism of a candidate for public office.

Altman also can spin this episode differently. He can point out accurately that he spent 12 years in local office dedicated to serving the public, not accumulating personal wealth.

We still believe Altman possesses many fine qualities necessary to be a successful public servant. We've also grown accustomed to his occasional gaffes.

But we expect leadership from public officials. In this issue, Altman set a bad example for his constituents. We expect better.