False fiscal prudence

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

When this old gent drives north on Highway 83 in McCook a glance at the new construction activity on the east side of the road gives me a tinge of frustration. At present the action is dirt moving to prepare the foundation of a new Holiday Inn Express motel. Fine, a nice new shiny bright motel would be welcoming to any traveler. Grannie and I do like the Holiday Inn Express venue and often stay in one when traveling. We find them clean, well run, comfortable and relish breakfast as part of the room fee. What then is there not to like?

Well, reportedly the new motel is going to be real estate tax-free for some seven years. The program is called Tax Increment Financing, TIF, and was granted by the local governing body, the City Council. Actually they, alike their motel competition and you and I that own real estate, will pay the levied real estate taxes. Then the County Treasurer will write a check refunding those taxes which are used to pay off the debt from building the property. Good deal for those holding the money bags.

TIF is an interesting concept. The idea was developed in large metropolitan areas that had become blighted and run down. A tax incentive was conceived to encourage developers to build new housing and business properties. The idea was to redevelop the area into a more prosperous and attractive place to live and do business. In adapting that idea to Nebraska the requirement to designate a certain percentage of the proposed building site as blighted was made part of the law. Now in McCook, Nebraska it is hard to impossible to find a truly blighted area. People here take pride in their properties with very few individual exceptions. Still, it is necessary to designate surrounding properties blighted when trying to justify TIF financing to the City Council.

I have heard from more than one owner who feels highly insulted that their well-kept business property was arbitrarily designated blighted and how would you feel? Such a designation automatically degrades property value as it is a good argument or bargaining chip for a prospective buyer to lower the price. One owner of a neighboring property designated blighted explained. “The City lowered my property value by making it blighted then the County increased my valuation for tax purposes by some 60%.” It seems that the left hand knoweth not what the right hand doeth!

Another thing that gravels your columnist is to drive by and note the names on the side of the vehicles used by the building contractors. For some reason it is almost always outside firms doing the work, no local builders involved. It would seem reasonable that if we are picking up the burden of avoided taxes to run our schools and local governments then the least we could do would have the work allotted to local contractors and workers. Such then must be the price of “progress”.

Back in the days of yore when yours truly sat on the County Board I would on occasion float the idea that we didn’t need two complete police departments in Red Willow County, all of 12,800 people at that time. The county sheriff has certain duties prescribed by state law that he has to do. Evidently, a local police department is optional as the sheriff and his department can perform all the policing duties. Two offices doing dispatching. The sheriff department runs the jail. Two sets of police car fleets. Probably many other duplicated offices and duties. One big efficient system should function just fine with many tax dollars to be saved.

Now understand this old guy is not anti-police or anti-sheriff. I consider several local law enforcement personnel to be good friends and I have all the respect in the world for the job they do. I just think that we have plenty of bodies in law enforcement here and can see opportunities for more efficient operations with the bonus of less tax burden.

Incidentally, a county in Kansas, as I remember it is where Fort Riley is located, has no sheriff’s department at all. They have chosen, instead, a county-wide police force and it functions just fine. Good idea.

It is presently budget time so you might want to contact your representative to the City Council and County Board and remind them that the only way to cut taxes is to cut expenses. You voted them into office so hold their feet to the fire.

That is the way I saw it.

Dick Trail

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