IN AN inflationary period, such as we're going through, homeowners keep saying to each other, "Well, at least the price of our house has kept up."

They shouldn't say this, because when the price of your house goes up, so do your residential taxes, and now some of them are higher than the original cost of the home..

Out in our neighborhood, almost everyone I know received a new increased tax estimate on their property of at least 23 percent. The computer that sent the estimate out claimed that the fellow across the street's land had increased 12 percent. Our land, which looks exactly like his land, had gone up 34 percent.

I decided to protest the discrimination.

"How come," I asked the man behind the glass window, "Elderberry's land only went up 12 percent, and mine went up 34 percent, when we both produce the exact same yield of crabgrass?"

"I wouldn't know," the man said.

"Why not?"

"I'm on my coffee break."

"Who would know?"

"The lady at the next window might tell you. She's off her coffee break."

I went through the same routine at the next window.

The woman studied the tax estimate I put in front of her and said, "It seems to be within the guidelines of the formula we use to assess property values."

"What formula is that?" I wanted to know.

"Gerard's. He can come up with any formula."

"Where's Gerard?"

"I don't know. I never met him. But he's a whiz with figures. He can close his eyes and come up with any percentage the city asks him to."

"Does he ever go out and look at the property?"

"I don't think so. He just calls up the real estate offices and tells them he's looking for a house in a certain neighborhood and wants to know how much it will cost. Then he averages out every house in the neighborhood, and he gets his formula."

"But real estate agents always lie. They never get the asking price for any house they're selling. Doesn't Gerard at least haggle with them?"

"Gerard's a gentleman. He never haggles with anyone."

"I still don't understand why Elderberry's land only went up 12 percent and mine went up 34 percent, when we're practically sitting on the same plot."

"Maybe Garard got bored," the lady suggested. "You work with percentages all day long and it gets to you after a while. The only way the city's going to keep a man like Gerard is to let him mix up his figures once in a while."

"Can I make an appointment with Gerard and get an explanation from him?"

"Gerard isn't allowed to see anyone. If someone got to talk to him they might be able to break his formula."

"I'd like to break more than his formula. I know the city's broke and needs money, but there has to be a fair system of collecting taxes. All I'm asking is that Gerard come out and look at my land and see if it's worth more than Elderberry's."

"It won't do you any good. If Gerard looked at it and lowered the tax value on your land, he'd have to raise it on your house. Otherwise he'd have to come up with a new formula."

"Is there any way I can protest that the land evaluation is too high?"

"Of course. Just fill out this protest form in triplicate."

"What happens to the copies?"

"One goes into your files, one goes to Gerard and the third goes to Alfred."

"Who's Alfred?"

"He's the meanest cat in the whole jungle."