If you've ever bought a car, you've seen this con in action.
You want to buy the car at a certain price. The salesman switches tactics. Instead of talking total out-the-door price, he starts throwing around "monthly payment" figures. Those numbers get adjusted up and down as things are added and subtracted. You finally give up and say "okay" when the monthly payment gets to a number you think you can afford.
But when you finally sign the contract, you learn that instead of paying the $22,000 sticker price for the car, or the $20,000 you intended to pay, you're signing for a grand total of $25,000. Oh, and the way those payments got lowered? You're on the hook for six years instead of the traditional four.
Welcome to the Car Con Game. Become familiar with it. Get comfortable with it. Because it's likely the City of Mesquite will use it to bamboozle businessowners and newcomers.
Most of the current council members have stated at one time or another that Mesquite has to become more "business friendly." As a part of that claim, more than a couple have indicated that one of the ways to do that is to dial back the unreasonably high business license fees, impact fees, environmental fees, and permit fees that have defined the city over the last few years.
In listening to those council members agree that fees are too high, you might get the impression that they're going to fix it by lowering or eliminating some of those fees.
But ask any patient of modern medicine and they'll tell you -- knowing and acknowledging that something is broken isn't the same as fixing it.
Based on a series of terrific interviews with the council members by Barbara Ellestad of Mesquite Citizen Journal, it's beginning to smell as if the council might try to use the Car Con Game on the citizens.
Most of them talked about the fees being high, and that they're going to correct that.
Wait for it...
By allowing the business to make payments.
It's offensive that governments are just now getting around to a concept that's been used for centuries.
But it's scarier when you look at where this is going. And you don't have to look any further than your television set.
Have you noticed that most of the big car makers no longer show the MSRP (Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price) when they discuss their cars? Instead, they show monthly payments. Even better (and even more deceitful) is the fact that the number they put out is often a lease payment instead of an actual car payment.
However, by playing this game, they have managed to increase the price of a car way beyond the rate of inflation. A 1970 Ford Mustang cost $2,721 in 1970. Today a 2012 Mustang costs $22,200. When you factor in the inflation rates between 1970 and 2012, the price should be $16,658. Instead, because payments have slowly been stretched from a two year term to a six year term, people think the payments are "reasonable."
By applying payments to license fees that are already too high, it gives the city a chance to increase rates over the next few years without being noticed because it won't "hurt as much" when spread out over a year.
And don't forget about interest. Keep a close eye on discussions about what that rate is going to be.
To be fair, payments are a good idea, and it's a positive move that the council is considering the concept (although it should have been an option from the beginning in 1984).
And if it is done in conjunction with an actual fee rate decrease? Then every council member who votes "yea" deserves to be lauded and re-elected, and companies from around the country should line up for a chance to do business in our town. We will have truly rolled out the Welcome Mat.
But if it's used to cover up and pretend that those outrageous license fees have gone down?
Well, let's just say that politicians and car salesmen are often cut from the same cloth, so it wouldn't be a surprise.
Just make sure that, as public citizens, you follow the phrase that has been a part of car buying since the invention of the wheel:Caveat Emptor. Let the buyer beware.