Thursday, August 21, 2008

Links and Thoughts

A few interesting tidbits from this week so far.

--The Athens Banner Herald's editorial suggesting the state end local assistance grants was an interesting read. This editorial from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation provides more detail. My suggestion is that these grants be available only to counties and municipalities of a certain size. Cities like Bishop, High Shoals, Bogart, and many others have budgets of less than $200,000 per year and occassionally have needs that would break their budget. Lets reserve these grants for the sewer line that might secure local industry for a town, grants and loans for historic preservation, in Georgia's smallest municiplaities, etc. While a piece of this $6 million per year pie is a drop in the bucket for many of the state's larger municipalities, for countless smaller cities these are a huge benefit. And they are a miniscule amount of the state budget. The bottom line: Tighten up the guidelines, and send the grants to our smallest cities. And lets be honest, there are a whole lot of state agencies that can use some belt tightening, despite the moans and groans that come with budget cuts.

--When you read the Oconee Enterprise this week, pay careful attention to a story in which the tax assessor's office floats the idea of raising the minimum acreage standards for conservation use taxing purposes. In my opinion, this is another attempt by the tax assessor's office to backdoor a tax increase as they have been doing through overly aggressive assessments for several years now (Here's who it typically works -- Commission: we lowered your tax rates! Tax Assessor: Congratulations, your home has increased 10% in value in the middle of a real estate recession! So your taxes go up anyway). Then juxtapose this article with Kate McDaniel's editorial about preserving Oconee's rural landscape. The fact is, the two things Kate cites (NBAF and the Georgia Transmission Corp's power lines) will have much less impact on the rural character of Oconee than this proposed tax policy change. NBAF is in Athens and while it will indeed impact a stretch of Milledge that leads to Oconee, the idea that it will change land use in Oconee is flawed. The power lines are being run to support regional needs, not local needs, including the commercial corridor along 316 and Atlanta Highway (full disclosure: GTC is a client of my company's). However, few things impact land use like tax policy. Increasing the tax burden on rural land, which requires little if any services, does nothing but incent the owners of that land (even if just a 10 acre "gentleman" farm) to do something different with it -- sell it, put a business on it, develop it, etc. Why shouldn't rural land in a conservation use have lower tax rates, regardless of parcel size? The bottom line: If Oconee wants to keep our rural areas, we need to make sure the fundamental economics work in a rural landowner's favor, and that local government is not sending one message on a land use map and saying something entirely different with the implementation of its tax policies.

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