So A Drop In Farm Land Values Nets 14 Percent Increase In My Property Tax Bill?

Abandoned school in Preble County.

The property tax on my Eaton, Ohio home is increasing 14 percent in 2018.

I knew the rate was abnormal (it’s roughly twice the increase of the last valuation) because the latest property audit generated five public meetings. In Preble County these meetings are only scheduled when something is being imposed on the public. Officials explain they ‘don’t want to do this, but outside forces are requiring it.’

In Ohio, every six years a ‘real’ audit is conducted where property is photographed, compared to other properties, questionnaires are distributed, and a new valuation is determined.

GOP Approved: The Anti-Tax Movement

Headlines from the mid-1970s highlight the frustration of Preble County farmers.

Plenty of factors affect a property’s value, and in the case of farm-rich areas like mine, so does the political system.

This year as my property value rises, a significant chunk of farmland in Preble County (and other parts of Ohio) will experience a significant decline in property value. It’s a Christmas miracle as the ‘invisible hand’ of the marketplace, guided ever so skillfully by lobbyists and legislators, yields to the pressure of the Farm Bureau and other agencies to readjust farm values.

Preble County farmers have a rich history of protesting taxes. (It is almost considered patriotic here to protest taxes — protesting violence against unarmed black men, though, not so much.) During one 1970s public meeting with Ohio and U.S. Congressmen Buz Lukens and Thomas Kindness nearly 800 farmers complained that their tax bill was out of hand. Some of them eventually marched on the capital in Columbus.

Movements, like the one in Preble County, worked and the tax laws were written in Ohio to accommodate the farmers’ concerns. They were rewritten this year.

When this latest law was implemented, it also meant a County’s revenue could take a hit, but miraculously, as in times past, it evened out as non-farm property values increased — offsetting any potential loss of revenue.

I’m not convinced it’s accurate, though, based on what I see and read.

What I See

First the anecdotal. Within a six-block area of my home:

  • A house ‘sat on the market’ for months before eventually being taken off because it did not sell.
  • Another house has been for sale, first by a realtor then by the owner, for more than a year.
  • A third house has been abandoned for more than a year. The lawn is maintained by the City of Eaton under property nuisance laws.

What I Read

A few statistics that suggest the 14 percent increase is erroneous:

  1. The increase of Dollar General stores in my county. According to Vox, the national chain intends to build more stores in ‘small communities that have otherwise shown few signs of the U.S. economic recovery.’  Since we are a target market for them, we now have seven of their stores. They replaced our ‘mom and pop’ establishments.
  2. According to the Census, our population is declining. People do not leave a thriving community.
  3. Our rising jail population. In the late 1980s to early 1990s, based on newspaper articles, we needed a new jail because we were spending “about $50,000” a year housing inmates in neighboring counties. Today the tipping point appears to be $100,000 — and one commissioner recently noted that, in 2017, we spent more than $80,000 housing inmates in neighboring counties. At this rate, we will build a larger jail. Jails can negatively impact private property value.
  4. We lost the drug war. According to one court official “about 80 percent” of the cases in the Preble County Common Pleas Court are drug-related. Viewing the jail roster, and comparing it to the court cases, one can quickly determine the majority of the defendants are indigent. But, in a case of a Catch-22, the county and City of Eaton are increasingly dependent on the income created by jailing the indigent. The Eaton Municipal Court, which handles about 600 cases monthly, generates $1 million in income that is diverted to the Preble County and City of Eaton budgets. This is in addition to the monies that pay the salaries for judges, bailiffs, and support staff. Losing the drug war negatively impacts property values and keeps potential employers from locating here.

But, the single most significant indicator that the 14-percent increase is inaccurate is our housing statistics. They show that Preble County has never recovered from The Great Recession.

High Foreclosures Rates

Although we are a small county (about 40,000) since 2007 we have consistently ranked high in Ohio home foreclosures. This indicates a systemic problem has not been alleviated. The initial wave of foreclosures were closely linked to Ohio’s lax predatory lending laws, the high-paying jobs exiting the Miami Valley region and a general economic decline caused by the Great Recession. Between 2007 and 2013, Preble County ranked in the Top 10 for foreclosures — peaking at 3rd in 2013. Although we fell to 16th in the state in 2014, 2016 data (the latest available) demonstrates we have not recovered — and definitely not at a 14-percent recovery rate.

With 4.5 foreclosures per 1,000, our foreclosure density ranks eighth in the state.

In 2015, we were 27th.


Farm Subsidies

One interesting paradox in the farm land value issue is farm subsidies. Farm subsidies are a wealth redistribution/entitlement program implemented in the 1930s by president Franklin D. Roosevelt when roughly 25 percent of the country earned its income from farming. Today, less than two percent do. If you are interested in who gets the (mostly Blue State) money inside your state or county, visit the Farm Subsidy Database. Between 1995 and 2016, Preble County farmers have received nearly $118 million in subsidies. Critics of the program claim that most of the money is funneled to large ‘corporate’ farms bypassing the small, family farms.

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Categories: 8th congressional district, American Revolutionary War, Life In A Red State, My America, Ohio, Preble County, Things I'm Tired Of, Understanding Trump Counties | Leave a comment

‘Godfather Of Modern Popular Gay Fiction’ Graduated From My Local, Rural High School

If you walk into Eaton High School in Preble County you will not find any quotes from our most prolific author. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who has heard of Victor J. Banis — a 1955 EHS graduate.

I stumbled across his name on the Preble County Wikipedia page — and then I read his 2008, 400+ page memoir, Spine Intact, Some Creases.

I found him to be a very interesting individual.

His book should appeal to at least three categories of readers:

  • those interested in First Amendment rights,
  • the gay community, and
  • locals interested in Preble County’s 1940s-1950s history.

First Amendments Battles

Victor is listed as a juvenile living at home in his father’s 1954 obituary. In the book, Banis details his last conversation with his father.

Banis moved out of Preble County after high school and within a decade found himself indicted in Sioux City, Iowa for ‘conspiracy to distribute obscene material’. Banis was indicted for his novel The Affairs of Gloria. As Banis writes in the foreword of the re-release of The Why Not Gloria,

…had one ‘damn’ in it and one ‘go to hell.’ It did, however, significantly have some — again tepid — lesbian scenes.

The federal government and the U.S. Postal Service found the lesbian scenes morally offensive.

Banis would eventually be dropped from the case (the other defendants were not), but he still spent the first decade of his writing career with a suitcase packed and an open offer to move overseas should another indictment be handed down.

A conviction in these obscenity cases could yield a 20-year or longer prison sentence.

But, instead of prison, for more than a decade Banis was at the forefront of the popular gay fiction scene. And, in true capitalism form, it proved quite profitable because he had found an unmet need. In the early 1970s, Banis was earning about $200,000 a year — the equivalent of $1.2 million today.

Not bad for a former Preble County resident.

Eventually, Banis would write in several genres, including straight romance, but it is his 1960s gay C.A.M.P. series that collectors seek out. Those interested in his work will find a bibliography of about 150 titles in Spine Intact.

Being Gay In Small Town America

Although I found his First Amendment battles intriguing, and his personal life interesting, another appeal was the local history. Included in the 27-chapter book are roughly four chapters worth of local history. Some of it is a little salacious for this region — his cross-dressing Halloween adventure at the Armory at the age of 12, the first time a male classmate expressed a romantic interest in him, and his romantic liaison at 17 with his 26-year-old Boy Scout leader. He writes,

When I began a relationship with my friend I was lonely to a suicidal degree. I knew only one other gay youth in Eaton, Ohio. There were gay adult males in town but, mindful of their own safety, they avoided involvement with someone so young…In retrospect I suppose that the folks in Eaton, Ohio, who guessed what was going on with my friend and me thought it none of their business.

Banis’ parents are buried in Preble County.

The relationship would lead to a nonfiction work, Men and their Boys: the homosexual relationship between adult and adolescent (1966), in which Banis interviews homosexuals males that had relationships with older men.

Crimes Against Humanity

Early in this memoir, Banis states that Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio is about Preble County (Anderson was born here, but moved by age two to Clyde, Ohio). If Banis’ assertion is accurate, Anderson’s work paints our dark side.

And when you read some of the incidents in Banis’ life, his assertion may be true.

In his book, Banis describes how his family ‘saw’ his oldest brother on a back country road in Preble County the night he was killed in Italy. Banis’ brother died in WWII shortly after his 23rd birthday.

As a Preble County resident, Banis grew up poor in the 1940s and 1950s. It was an era where being gay was a crime and it was a region, then as now, where homosexuality, by and large, is not accepted as natural. But, indirectly, this book challenges what we say we believe by showing us who we are. Banis mentions the gay local politicians, the homosexual book he found at a Preble County drug store in his youth, and the regional gay bars and hangouts that he frequented in his late teens/early 20s.

And he also exposes the crimes committed against gays by those in authority. Banis admits being gang raped by three officers (he does not offer location) and reports how, in Indianapolis, police officers abused gays at a party he attended. As you read the story of his youth and early 20s, the man has a right to be bitter, but he is not. Instead what flows through his words is a kind man filled with understanding, forgiveness and humor. He is witty. He occasionally ‘name drops’ (Hugh Hefner comes to mind). He jokes about his sexual liaisons with military personnel and, in general, he upholds his journey as one he was blessed to have travelled.

He also acknowledges the challenge his mother faced — being a Christian with a gay son. But, I feel his mother may have had a mischievous side when it came to the whispers that she almost certainly heard from the righteous.

While visiting him in California, Banis’ mom asked for a copy of some of his work (probably C.A.M.P., the gay male series, based on the vignette). And, as Banis notes, he presumed the books would go into a drawer somewhere so she could say she had a copy of them. Instead, mom decides to let her minister (Church of the Brethren), an aspiring writer who had expressed interested in her son’s writing career, read one. Banis writes,

The Reverend never expressed to her or to me any opinion on the books’ literary merits. Indeed, he never mentioned them to me at all, but he did look at me rather differently on my subsequent visits.

He never asked again about my writing either, and the next time I visited church with my mother the sermon was on ‘the Unintentional Sinner.’ I kept my gaze straight forward and sang the hymns with gusto, although I got through ‘He knows me as I am’ with some difficulty.

A Little Long

My only criticism of the book is it could have ended a little sooner. By his own admission, he meanders. By the end of the book, you will read several chapters offering would-be writers advice and some self-esteem tips. It’s all solid writing, it just feels somewhat out of place for this book.

Rated: 4 stars out of 5.


Local Trivia

Residents of Eaton, Ohio should know at least one of Banis’ sisters, Fanny. She was mayor of Eaton from 1993-1998.

Categories: Americans Who Got It Right, Books I have read, My America, Preble County, Understanding Trump Counties

‘Full House’ Actress Shares Addiction, Recovery Journey And Inspires Hope

Jodie Sweetin: After Full House — Acting, Addiction and Recovery.

I’m too old to have ‘been raised on’ Full House so I have not watched Fuller House either, but after listening to actress Jodie Sweetin’s speech at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio Monday evening, Oct 30, I was impressed with her humanity.

Sweetin played Stephanie (the middle child) in Full House — and plays the older version of Stephanie in Fuller House on Netflix, but Monday night she discussed ‘real life.’ Sweetin is a recovering addict and, by her own admission, her life’s path has not been perfect.

I went because I live in a section of the country, and in a county, that struggles with drug addiction.

At 35, Sweetin is six and a half years sober. In her speech, Sweetin detailed the various drugs she consumed, noting that she began abusing alcohol as a teenager, shortly after Full House ended (at age 13). This is the part of her journey I found most interesting — because she describes what was driving her behavior. From an early age, she said she did not feel comfortable in her own skin. Her fame added to that especially since she attended grade school and middle school during those years.

She felt out of place among her classmates.

This alienation plagued her for more than a decade. She admitted that during her teen years being drunk and/or high brought a sense of relief.

The lifestyle of her biological parents also impacted her. Both biological parents were addicts (her biological father died in a prison riot).

After a ‘series of rock bottoms’ events, Sweetin ultimately finds joy and satisfaction counseling other addicts.

She even admitted that if her acting career ends she would consider becoming a full-time counselor. This empathy, for those struggling with addiction, could also be felt in her responses during the Q&A session when Sweetin reiterated that is no ‘right path’ to recovery.

Everyone must find their own way, she said.

And, when asked if she felt child actors were more susceptible to drug and/or alcohol abuse, Sweetin responded that child actors simply get more of the media’s attention.

In the upper-middle class neighborhood she grew up in there were 15 or so children — six of them suffered from drug addiction issues (including death), she noted. But since they were not as well known as Sweetin their stories are largely unknown outside that community.

If you have a chance to hear Sweetin speak — do — Sweetin is an engaging speaker and her message is important. Also stick around for the question and answer session. She is brave enough to answer any, and all, questions — and she may even bring you onstage for an autograph — like she did Monday for two young fans.

Sweetin is also author of UnSweetined. Published in 2009, the book has a 4.5 out of 5 stars rating on Amazon.

Categories: drug addiction, My America | Tags: