The year 2011 is about to draw to a close.
It has been interesting to watch the pattern of new construction in the local area. A considerable number of new homes have been built, several in progress, in rural areas surrounding McCook.
However I can recall only one house constructed within the city limits. Hmm, how can that be?
Building rural requires additional expenses that the home owner within city limits generally is able to avoid. The rural owner has to create his own water well and septic system.
Those installations necessitate considerable up-front costs but ongoing maintenance is drastically less than the fees collected in town.
My own experience dictates that it is about a wash, fees vs. the opportunity cost of the money and ongoing maintenance over a period of years for the private installations. Considering other utilities normally provided by a municipality, rural owners have the option of contracting for trash services or for incinerating and burying the residue for their own trash disposal.
Cable TV provided by the municipality with a rake off for the city coffers can be countered by several satellite providers serving rural areas generally at less cost. Telephone service in the country is about equal in cost to that in town but many now opt to use only cell phone service instead of the expense of a land line. Internet service tends to cost the same either way.
Most people in rural areas use propane for heating. Propane is a bit more trouble than piped-in natural gas as one has to occasionally check the tank and ensure that an adequate supply is on hand. Propane contracted from a local supplier also omits the franchise fee on natural gas collected by the municipality. Same for electricity; cheaper rural rates with no additional fee for city coffers.
Rural property taxes are collected only by the county and the municipal property tax is skipped.
School taxes are the same, although the rural owner may have the option of choosing the school district where he pays and can select the district with the lowest rate.
Municipal sales taxes are usually collected no matter the person's residence, although the rural buyer can have certain big ticket items delivered to his residence and avoid paying the local option sales tax.
One area where the rural resident pays more is transportation, the cost of fuel for trips to town. The farther one lives from where one shops, the more the cost.
Why then do so many desire to build in rural locations outside city limits? The answer may be fees and taxes.
The ability to tax and the related choice of avoiding taxes definitely shape how our communities come together.
I am retired military and the bulk of my income comes from my military retirement check.
Our close neighbor Kansas has elected to collect no state tax from the retired military. I seriously considered buying a house in Oberlin and commuting to my jobs in McCook. When I pushed the pencil, however, it showed that the expense of commuting just about equaled what I would have saved from relief of paying Nebraska taxes.
The McCook area is where I grew up, and here is where our friends live, so we happily elected to stay here.
Three large construction projects are currently in progress in the city; the hospital, the college activity building and the just-started fire, police and municipal complex.
All three projects take advantage of "free" federal funds which we also pay. No doubt these projects are needed, but I wonder if they would be built on such a grand scale if all those building funds had to come from local tax coffers.
I can recall when the community came together to donate the funds to build the current YMCA building.
The community perceived a need and willingly committed personal funds to build the best non-tax supported facility between Denver and Omaha.
The Kiplinger Arena is another jewel serving this area and it was built with only a minimal amount of tax money, thanks to Tom Kiplinger dreaming a need and putting his personal fortune behind the project.
If there is a need, it will be built. Recently the mayor chastised me a bit for not pushing the "shop in McCook" theme.
He has a point, and I prefer to support local merchants for all the good that they do to make this a great place to live.
Yet I notice that the three big projects now a-building in McCook and are being done by construction firms headquartered out of this area.
It also appears that most of the labor working those projects is non-local. Somewhere there seems to be a message about how important it is to stay local.
There are advantages to living in town, close-by good neighbors, the convenience of local shopping and economy of short commutes come to mind.
There are irritants, too, with higher costs of living foremost. Little things irritate like a nearby church building that had been vacant for some time and then brought back to life by a charismatic leader and like-minded believers.
To make the building better a large awning was build over the entrance but had to be removed in short order due to "zoning restrictions."
Ridiculous. Then, too, one can't be too proud of the debacle in progress with the City Council, but it is home and I like it, warts and all.
A personal note: My sister Margaret Nielsen, eldest of my generation of cousins, will celebrate her 80th birthday on Jan. 2, 2012. She was born and educated in McCook, lived all across the United States with her Air Force husband Dale, but now resides in Lexington. Happy birthday big sis, I'm not far behind you!
That is the way I saw it.