Ohio

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.

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

Heroin, Meth Just Part Of Life In Small, Rural Town

14889598603_32441c00b0_zI live in Ohio, a state where the Attorney General has declared a heroin epidemic. My county is no exception. The possession of heroin cases in Common Pleas Court have skyrocketed from about five in 2012 to around 50 in 2016.

But heroin, is just one of the drugs the county deals with — meth has been in the region for years and it does not appear to be going away. In August, 2015 there were nearly as many meth cases (based on the presumption that the ‘manufacturing’ indictment is for meth production) as heroin — three versus four respectively.

When a community is hammered by drugs, typically thefts or burglaries rise as addicts seeks ways to fund their habit. In this regard, Preble is, again, no exception. In August, 2015 the grand jury handed down seven theft-related indictments.

Meth Nearly Destroys Iowa Town

methlandIn Methland: The Death and Life of an American Small Town, author Nick Reding examines a small rural, agricultural-based town in southeast Iowa which is about the same size as my hometown. The tale, mostly about the town’s (Oelwein) triumph over meth is an interesting read as it lays bare the wide-ranging reasons for the epidemic.

Three of the reasons are: political indifference, corporate irresponsibility and the myth of the American Dream.

Political Indifference

What may be most troubling about the meth situation is it never had to happen. As the author details in the book, research to create an alternative to pseudoephedrine — the chemical extracted from Sudafed to manufacture meth — was halted as in 2000. Before 2000, two approaches were being pursued that could have eliminated the ability to extract meth from Sudafed. The first was a chemical ‘mirror’ alternative to pseudoephedrine that eliminated the stimulant effect — making it worthless to the meth industry. The second approach was to use additives that blocked the ability to extract pseudoephedrine from cold tablets.

In the end, much like with the current heroin/opioid situation, Big Pharma’s profit potential influenced politicians to take a hands-off approach to regulating the industry — siding with business at the expense of American communities.

Corporate Irresponsibility

As president Calvin Coolidge famously said, the business of America is business — and this holds true even when it destroys livelihoods. Part of Methland deals with Ottumwa, Iowa where the meth trade skyrocketed in the late 1980s — making Roseanne’s Barr’s former sister-in-law Lori Arnold a very wealthy woman (and eventual felon). Arnold became wealthy by distributing meth to an ever-increasing base of factory workers.

When large companies, like Cargill, acquired food processing plants in the region, one of their first lines of business was to slash wages from about $18 an hour to $5. Workers, forced to work double shifts or take on a second job to sustain their earnings, turned to meth for the energy to get through the extended work week.

The companies also began actively recruiting immigrants, mostly from Mexico, to take jobs at the plant. The influx of immigrants, some with a direct line to the Mexican meth industry, increased the drugs presence in the workplace.

Today, with president-elect Donald Trump riding to the White House partially on the immigration issue, it remains to be seen if he will address one of the reasons illegal aliens are here. As Reding points out in the book, U.S. companies recruit inexpensive, illegal foreign labor and then hide behind legalities. Under U.S. law, companies are not responsible for knowing whether a worker is in the United States legally. They bring them here — and pretend to not know how they showed up. The scam has played a role in perpetuating an anti-immigration stance among Americans whose misdirected anger exists because they do not realize companies in their community caused the problem.

The American Dream

A significant portion of the book deals with Arnold who, within months of entering the Ottumwa meth business, becomes a very wealthy individual. Arnold looms high above the other small-time meth manufacturers featured in the book. But even the small time players create a significant cash flow because they have a captive market base — people working 60-90 hours weeks just to stay ahead of the economic curve.

The book is worth reading simply for Arnold’s story.

Even though the story is empathic to Arnold, and the other large and small time dealers, it does not shy away from what they are or what they do. It is very much a ‘warts and all’ type of tale. But, a bright side to the story does exist. It is seen mostly through the major of Oelwein, a progressive determined to purge his small town of meth while also returning viable jobs to the region. He takes some big gambles — and in the end they pay off.

It’s an approach small towns in the Rust Belt would be wise to follow.

Keen Observations

The book’s strength is the author’s many observations, including one about the American economic system. Reding posits that our economy is proving the theories of Karl Marx to be more accurate than Adam Smith’s —  noting that even the agricultural industry is being cannibalized by a handful of companies. This handful of large companies control the lion share of the market, pushing small farmers to the brink of extinction, destroying local economies in the process.

One small way this is seen, he notes, is the disappearance of locally-owned grain elevators. Under locally-owned systems, every dollar created through the sale of grain generates another three to four dollars in local transactions, Reding explains. This keeps small economies thriving.

Today, though, grain is typically owned and handled by one seed company and the dollar transactions are reduced to a 1:1 ratio, eliminating any local upside. This guts the local economy often causing family-owned grain elevators to close. It happened in the Iowa town — and in my community as well. The grain elevators that existed in the village of West Alexandria and the city of Eaton closed years ago.

In Eaton, a Dollar General store sits where the former grain elevator operated.

Rated 5 out of 5: The book is fairly short, very well researched and a nice blend of investigative journalism and personal essay writing.

Categories: Life In A Red State, My America, Ohio, Politics, Preble County, Small Town Politics

Thanks To All Who Made Hocking Hills An Enjoyable Trip

30224383885_682bc4e316_zFor possibly a decade, I’ve been saying I want to go to Hocking Hills. Both my wife and daughter were okay with going — and my dog Versa could live in the forest — but, for countless reasons, I never planned the trip.

This weekend was different. I cleaned the van, threw in a mattress (in case we could not find lodging) — and Amy, Versa and I heading to Logan, Ohio, to see what Hocking Hills was like.

We were not disappointed. Saturday, we visited Old Man’s Cave and hiked about five or six miles. On Sunday we hiked near Cedar Falls. During our trip, we saw a deer, a handful of wild turkeys and, of course, stunning landscape — and we met some incredibly nice people.

Illegal Parking — Just Say No!

First there was the park ranger who pulled up behind me as I was unloading my gear to walk through Old Man’s Cave. I had parked behind two vehicles in the shoulder/ditch area of the state route near the park’s entrance.

“I’m going to do you a favor, the park ranger said, and just give you a warning. I am going to ticket the vehicles in front of you. This is a no parking zone. It’s a really dangerous place to park.”

When the friendly officer further explained by not ticketing us he was saving us $135, Amy gave him a high five– which he returned, grinning.

So, we moved the vehicle, thankful for the financial break, and decided to try the parking lot even though it was overflowing. We found a spot, parked legally and spent several hours hiking and photographing the beautiful scenery.

Conkle’s Hollow

29942994180_1b5d6df255_zAfter Old Man’s Cave we were uncertain where to go so we headed to Conkle’s Hollow, but noticed a sign that pets were not permitted on the trail so we left. We then stopped at the state-run campground, hoping against the odds, that they would have a cabin or campsite to rent (they did not), but it was here that a young lady really helped us out.

Since my only goal for the weekend was to get us there, I did not know which trails were the best/worst to hike with a dog. The woman at the campground did know though. She took the time to show me the best trail — explained the terrain (‘there’s one hard hill before the lake’) and marked a spot on the map so I knew where to park to easily access Cedar Falls park.

In For The Night

After hiking a couple of hours Saturday evening, we headed back to the local Walmart to pick up some odds and ends and to decide where to sleep. We knew we could sleep in the Walmart parking lot, but were concerned the dog would be restless (yes we have become those people) due to the street lights. So, we headed to a nearby motel while searching online for deals. The lady at the motel said they were full, but then picked up the phone to find us a room in a nearby town. Although unsuccessful in her attempt, her willingness to help was typical of the way we were treated all weekend.

We decided to try one more place — near Old Man’s Cave. By now it was dark and getting cooler. We pulled into Caveman’s Retreat and the woman reserved us a campsite quickly and easily — and her pleasant demeanor gained her a repeat customer. The site was exactly what we needed and by 9 p.m. we were tucked safely inside our makeshift camper.

Offline

Inside Hocking Hills forest and much of the surrounding area, we were cut off from the electronic world. It was a pleasant distraction. Temperatures dipped into the low 40s the night we stayed, but inside our van, beneath our heavy-duty blanket, we were warm and content.

After a good night’s sleep, we headed out Sunday morning for an enjoyable, scenic 10-mile hike at Cedar Falls.

When we left the region Sunday afternoon, we both knew one thing for certain.

We would be back.

Soon.hocking-hills

Categories: Ohio, Ohio Events, Things To Do | Tags: , , ,