Archive for January 29th, 2009

Simple Addition: Apparently not so simple

January 29, 2009

uscurrency_federal_reservePoor Montgomery County, Maryland.  Someone forgot to check the addition on the estimate of property value in the county, and it turns out that the estimate wasn’t a very good estimate after all.  It was off by a whopping $16,000,000,000.  That’s right, sixteen billion dollars — a result of entering $180 billion instead of $164 billion.  To put that kind of money into perspective, it’s….it’s sixteen billion dollars.  There is no way to put that in perspective.   [Except perhaps for  The Washington Post’s observation that it is equivalent to the Gross Domestic Product of Jordan.]

Of course, that’s just the value of the property,  not the amount of revenue that the government expected to gain in taxes from the property value, which was used to calculate school budgets.  Ironically, the result was that Montgomery County didn’t get enough money:  money from richer counties is shared with schools in poorer counties, and Montgomery looked extra rich.  The end result is that Montgomery is getting its $24 million, but lawmakers are suddenly trying to find a way to cover the $31 million that was mistakenly given to the other schools from Montgomery’s non-existent tax income.

(“Suddenly?” you ask.  “Didn’t this mistake actually happen in 2007?”  Why yes, yes  it did, in November.  A few people noticed:  one person even sent an email asking if the numbers were correct, but the email was never answered.  Having forgotten to reply to a few emails myself, I can totally see how that happened — you get a question, mean to answer it, get distracted, and all of a sudden it’s fallen down the email queue into The Abyss.  A bit of a problem, nonetheless.  So the matter was tabled, until this past summer when “mid-level number crunchers in state government” (WP) caught it — hooray for the mid-level number crunchers!   Word got back to Montgomery County last month, and this story first hit the airwaves a few weeks ago.)

The moral of the story:  check your math.  And check your email.