8th congressional district

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

Memo To GOP: Never Forget — Ignorance And Fear Generates Votes

One local Facebook user said there were 300 currently available jobs in Preble County. The user based the claim on a Indeed job search, but the user did not take the time to look at the listed jobs — or their location. An October 7 Indeed search revealed there are 101 jobs currently advertised in Eaton (the county seat), 96 of those jobs had an annual salary estimate of $15,000. But even the 101 number is incorrect because included in that list are Border Patrol jobs for the federal government, a Chief of Police job for Sylvania Township, Ohio and a flight attendant for Delta Airlines, to name just a few inaccuracies. Also, some of the listing are repeated (for example the same Water Meter Installer ad appears on the first three pages of listings and three positions at Henny Penny are duplicated).

Framing Issues Just Like In The 80s

I’m amazed at the slanted information that filters onto social media.

Although Sanctuary Cities aren’t much of an issue in Ohio’s 8th Congressional District they were Warren Davidson’s pressing concern this week. His Tweet, with its xenophobic and racist undertones, implies the need to protect our (white) girls from darker-skinned gang members.

Davidson is correct in one aspect, though, Ohio has a rape problem.

He’s just framing it immorally.

Selling Fear

The day before Davidson’s Tweet, in my hometown newspaper, a rape was reported with a story line that is significantly more common in Ohio. Victims are raped by someone they know.

The suspect, who was convicted and is scheduled to be sentenced next month, was a resident of a small, rural town on the southern end of Preble County — a county that is 97 percent white. The 49-year-old man was convicted of raping his daughter’s friend — a 20-something who, after a night of drinking, decided to ‘crash on the couch’ at the friend’s house where the father also lived.

No gangs. Just a 49-year-old man with predatory behavior — a demographic and behavior that is much harder to politicize.

Just a few weeks earlier, in Eaton, another man — about the same age — tied up a 90-something-year-old female relative, stealing her vehicle, just a few blocks from my home. After being apprehended by the Eaton Police Department, the suspect escaped the cruiser while handcuffed — and within 24 hours was accused in the stabbing of another Preble County resident.

Again, no gangs — just a white American male.

What Would Ted Nugent Do?

The Tweet — with its nod to the infamous Willie Horton ad from the 80s — is troubling on many levels, but it comes in a week where the GOP has attacked women’s reproductive rights while intentionally ignoring action on gun violence. After the horrific incident in Las Vegas where roughly 600 people were shot by a high-powered assault rifle from the 32nd floor of a hotel — negating the possibility of a CCW-armed individual neutralizing the situation — the GOP proved its political approach is woefully out of whack with the leadership the country needs.

But some of their fans are egging them on.

I see this on Facebook since I live in a Red Zone. We love our guns more than liberty, and Facebook lit up with people justifying their 2nd Amendment right to arm themselves. They quoted Teddy Nugent and Pat Robertson to justify their position — all the while ignoring the context that the 3rd Amendment brings to the debate.

God Help Us

Part of our inability to stave off nefarious Tweets or solve problems like gun violence is an exploitation of social conservative beliefs. Many good, church-attending people in my community are convinced that only God can solve our problems — effectively removing human accountability. One Preble County resident, commenting on the Las Vegas shooter, said,

‘There is no way to figure out who these people are until it’s too late.”

Besides shutting down public discourse (since there ‘are no solutions’), as Redneck Liberal Trea Crowder points out, there is a level of hypocrisy in the statement. Crowder says, this is not the response white people have when a person of color fires the weapon. It is not the response they have when non-Christians fire the weapons. And, as Crowder also points out, other countries have found workable solutions.

For some, though, none of this matters. It’s easier to do nothing. It’s the reason ‘thoughts and prayers’ resonates with many here and throughout the country — a naïve belief that God’s will usurps authority over intellect — and we just need to trust Him to solve our problems.


Passive Americans

Preble County church.

After mentioning a local church’s response to Colin Kaepernick’s protest in a recent post, I listened to the minister’s argument. It boils down to: how would it look to children if we disrespect the flag/anthem? It’s a weak argument coming from an organization (Southern Baptist) that supported a man who bragged about sexual assault and called Kaepernick a son of a bitch. Besides, Southern Baptists may not be a moral authority on race relations since they owe their inception to slavery.

But, more importantly, Kaepernick’s protest could teach children that people have an obligation to denounce systemic racism or that the First Amendment was penned for situations like police accountability.

It is the story of Elijah the minister references, though, in his ‘kneel or stand’ sermon that offers a stronger clue to why communities like mine lack the skills to problem solve.

In the story, a destitute and hungry prophet Elijah, survives because God instructs birds to daily deliver food to him. This is accepted as a literal act of God — not a Aesop-type fable — but real birds delivering real food to a real man.  Elijah does not solve his hunger problem, the solution exists outside of him.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Life In A Red State, My America, Politics, Preble County

America’s Political Dysfunction Called A Security Concern

Preble County church sign appears less than a week after Trump inflames country by calling attention to Colin Kaepernick peaceful protest, calling the former NFL quarterback a son of a bitch. Trump attacked Kaepernick’s First Amendment rights during Constitution Week. Although I will not be able to hear the sermon, the minister blogged about the situation. You can read it here.

Because of my evangelical and Appalachian background, when Trump escalated his battle with the NFL, my Facebook Wall lit up with memes supporting Trump’s revision of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protest. Kaepernick began his protest to draw attention to police accountability after numerous unarmed black men were killed by white police officers.

But in our era of ‘politics is war by other means’ Trump danced past Kaepernick’s intent and reframed the protest to appease his base. As the president was campaigning for losing candidate Luther Strange in Alabama, he told a mostly white crowd on Friday, Sept. 22,

“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

In typical Trump fashion he doubled down on the rhetoric with a NFL-centric Tweet Storm — successfully diverting attention away from Roger Stone’s testimony and the White House’s cobbled approach to the Puerto Rico crisis.

Kneel Or Stand?

As memes with Trump’s new narrative, including I ‘kneel for the cross and stand for the flag’ populated my Wall, allegations surfaced that the Draft-Dodging president was hypocritically mocking veteran, and war hero, John McCain’s physical disability (caused when McCain was tortured by the Viet Cong). Missing from my Wall were posts of the soldiers that approved of Kaepernick’s act. Just like the country, soldiers are divided on the issue. Veteran, and former CIA director Michael Hayden, who admits he is not a fan of Kaepernick, wrote this in an op-ed piece for The Hill,

As a 39-year military veteran, I think I know something about the flag, the anthem, patriotism, and I think I know why we fight. It’s not to allow the president to divide us by wrapping himself in the national banner. I never imagined myself saying this before Friday, but if now forced to choose in this dispute, put me down with Kaepernick.

Understanding This Presidency

During Trump’s Tweet Storm, I attended a presentation by Katty Kay, Lead News Anchor for BBC. I was interested in her views as an ‘outsider.’ (The program was billed as The View From the Outside: Insights on American Politics.)

Kay has covered the White House since 1996, an era she described as more optimistic — a honeymoon stage since the United States was still seen as the winner of the Cold War. During her presentation, Kay described a conversation she had with former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.

According to Kay, Gates explained the four security risks the United States currently faces. As a student of history and politics, the first three did not surprise me: China, a declining Russia and the Middle East. The fourth one did. According to Kay, Gates explained

…the fourth national security issue is America’s political dysfunction. The fact that this country has become virtually ungovernable. There is so much division between the left and the right and so little ability to compromise — it’s hard to get things done.

Kay also said,

America is a system that was built on — and for — compromise, but compromise has become a dirty word. You’re a presidential system acting like a parliamentary system with the result that nothing can get done.

A day or so after the her speech, I learned that the Freedom Caucus was continuing its participation in the dysfunction. Warren Davidson, Congressman for Ohio’s 8th Congressional District where I live, introduced legislation attacking the Congressional Budget Office. The Freedom Caucus began its attack on the institution in a July op-ed piece after a GOP majority failed, for the umpteenth time, to ‘Repeal and Replace’ the Affordable Care Act.

Dismantling Is Rough On Low-Income Counties

The beginning of the end for Small Town USA?

Before the presentation, I finished reading a 80-page 1994 Heritage Foundation publication. It gave me additional clues to when this modern ungovernable debacle was conceived.

The Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, issued a booklet titled Congress and Civil Society: How Legislators Can Champion Civic Renewal in Their Districts. It was written at the height of the Republican Revolution — after the Party won a majority in Congress for the first time in 40 years. The book champions the ideas of then House Speaker Newt Gingrich — the man who ushered in the No Compromise approach to politics.

This approach was pushed further to the Right by The Tea Party and The Freedom Caucus.

The booklet is a blueprint for dismantling the federal government by pushing governing responsibility down into local communities. The book cherry-picks successful community and faith-based organizations, mostly in large metropolitan areas, holding them up as proof that ‘what works here can work there’. The featured solutions suggest that most, if not all, problems are best solved at the local level.

However, the publication does caution the Party not to impose this on low-income communities that cannot rise to the challenge of self-efficiency. Apparently not everyone got the memo, because the dismantling began and low-income communities, like mine, paid the price.

Losing At The Local Level

As I research my county’s history, by the late 90s — five years or so after the booklet was published — meth was a significant problem in Preble County. We were, and are, ill-equipped to handle it. The drug entered our community despite a growing national economy — and locally strong unemployment rates. Eventually, as automation and not immigration, stole about 70 percent of manufacturing jobs, including many where Preble County residents worked, area wages fell and the job vacuum was filled with low-wage retail jobs.

By the 2000s, we lost the drug war.

Today, as in 2000 — and like many communities in the nation — we arrest users at a higher rate than drug manufacturers and distributors. The addicted are easier to snag. Of the 25 indictments handed down this month in my county, 20 were drug related. Out of those 20 cases, two cases were allegations of distribution or trafficking, 18 were indictments for drug use.

I’m old enough to remember when 10 indictments a month in Preble County was a lot.

Social Media And Our Loss Of Connectivity

We lost the drug war for the same reason social media blew up the NFL story. We have lost a connection with our community and each other. Social media has amplified the problem of talk radio by removing the discussion and reducing everything down to a one-liner — and generally an offensive one.

This year I attended four drug and/or heroin educational events, and at one of them a recovering addict, who credits Jesus with curing her addiction, stated the reason she was able to get clean was because someone treated her humanely. She said a woman helping her inside a clothing establishment connected with her and,

… for the first time, in a long time, the woman talked to me like I wasn’t a monster. And I wasn’t the lowest of the low. She treated me like anyone else.

In the ‘war on drugs’, Portugal, unlike us, found out more than a decade ago, that the key to solving an epidemic is to help people reconnect with their community — just like the Preble County woman did with the recovery addict.  What does not work is treating the chemically-addicted like criminals — prey to be caught and trapped.

(Trapping political opponents in a snare on social media doesn’t work either as we are learning in the current chaos. Political parties, and their base, must reach across the aisle and talk.)

Left Behind

As the movement blaming the federal government for the country’s woes grew, our ability to govern declined. And, by turning the federal government into a dragon to be killed, communities like mine — ones that lacked the economic and political savvy to solve mounting problems — were left behind, unable to attract much-needed human and capital resources.

Categories: 8th congressional district, Life In A Red State, My America, Preble County, Small Town Politics, Understanding Trump Counties