Things I’m Tired Of

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

‘Trump’s Rich, He Doesn’t Care About Health Care’ — Worker In Preble County

A statue of William Bruce overlooks Eaton, Ohio, the city he founded in the early 1800s. Bruce was a member of the New Light church, a conservative Christian movement that championed an extreme, literal interpretation of the Bible. He also operated the town’s grist mill. Bruce split with the group when church officials told him it was ungodly to feed the poor on Sunday. Bruce fed them anyway, reasoning that destitute people did not choose which days to be hungry.

While T-Money sat on the sidelines during the ‘skinny repeal’ Tweeting ‘Go White, Angry Guys, GO!’ (I may be paraphrasing his Tweet slightly) my mother, 75, and her older sister, 82, had spent weeks ‘worrying themselves sick’ about what would happen to their health care. Being of a generation where a grade school education was considered adequate, they have very limited options on purchasing quality care.

They are not really in a position to alter that either, but like the Preble County man, a conservative, I quoted in the headline stated — Trump isn’t concerned about the issue.

Based on his Tweets since the failed vote — for 45* health care repeal is about the political win.

The Blame Game

Once the legislation was defeated by Trump’s on-again, off-again hero John McCain, the crying and finger-pointing began.

Freedom Caucus member Warren Davidson, who represents Ohio’s 8th Congressional District where I live, was one of the GOP politicians to start whining, Tweeting his favorite tagline, ‘It is not compassionate to bankrupt America.’

Besides the obvious, that Senator Mazie Hirono was not issuing an insult instead she was actually asking a legitimate question of a Party that a decade or two ago branded itself as Compassionate, what I found even more interesting about Davidson’s Tweet is the lack of interaction. I captured the image two days after it was written and it still only had 3 ReTweets and 16 Likes. There were 17 comments and none of the comments were from supporters of his position.

The GOP, with its oppositional approach to governing, have proven themselves to be incompetent fools (that’s an intended insult) in the health care repeal debacle, but they are highly skilled in one aspect — they know how to frame an issue. Ever since Ronald Reagan attached the label entitlement to social safety nets, the GOP has had a field day trying to undo as many as possible because, they know, Americans hate the word entitlement.

Of course, the people impacted by destroying the safety nets are citizens like my mother and aunt.

Frame and Reframe

Davidson’s Tweet frames health care as a situation where if it’s not repealed the country will spiral down into a debt-ridden abyss. An either/or situation. But one would presume, with the plethora of options available, other methods of cutting costs exist. For starters forgoing the $1.6 billion earmarked in Trump’s proposed budget for a wall on the southern border that the Freedom Caucus supports.

If the ‘big, beautiful wall’ is going to be transparent like Trump suggests (so no one is hit in the head by bags of drugs being tossed over) just put up a plastic orange snow fence with some no trespassing signs.

It will be just as effective and cost pennies on the dollar.

Is Health Care A Right?

Many of my conservative friends and family — and even those with ties to Christian fundamentalism — do not view health care as a human right. After all, they reason, why should I ‘pay’ for someone else’s healthcare. It’s their responsibility. Whether it’s a human right can be debated, I suppose, but whether it is humane to deny health care access cannot be debated especially if one claims to be pro-life.

You either believe life is sacred, or you don’t. If you do, then take the humane route and make health care affordable to all Americans.

Here Come The Levellers

It was, in part, the Bible — or at least a novel interpretation of it — that changed the power structure in the western world. Many of the liberties we take for granted in America are the result of a group largely lost to history — the Levellers.

England’s Levellers shifted the political structure by contesting the notion that Kings were ordained by God (despite earlier interpretations of the Bible) — and in doing so they also fought for a broader voting base and for increasing the ability of ‘commoners’ to govern themselves. (The movement was considerably more than this — read The Leveller Revolution by John Reed (2016) to get a thorough understanding of their tactics and beliefs).

It was also their belief that people have the ability to reason — and if they can reason, they can govern.

Age Of Reason

But, it is the reasoning that is missing in our current era. A minority of Americans reasoned ‘what could possible go wrong,’ and supported 45* helping him squeeze out an Electoral College win. And politicians of the majority party reasoned that they could do whatever they wanted because the ‘American people have spoken’ by putting them in power.

Sensible people see the error in the logic.

For example, Davidson touts that he won 77% of the vote in the June, 2016 election. It is, after all, a fact. As an avid Cincinnati Reds fan I know that the Reds won the 1919 World Series, but I never say that because a tainted (gerrymandered) system yields tainted results. However, I will talk about the 1975 World Series — a contest that pitted two of the best teams in MLB history against each other.

It was an untainted Series and a legitimate victory for the Reds. It was also a bit of a quandary for my pre-teen self. I was a fan of both teams. I mean, the Red Sox had Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Carl Yastrzemski — and the Reds, well they had Pete Rose, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Joe Morgan. Although my allegiance tilted toward the Reds, either way I would win since both of my favorite teams were competing.

If only politics worked the same way.

Out Of Touch

A strong sense of decency is driving many Americans to push back against the current political mayhem. More Americans are questioning why they cannot have access to the same quality of care as, say John McCain or Steve Scalise. They are also tired of a Party wanting to ‘Repeal and Replace’ with health care plans that are more harmful to average Americans.

Plans that hurt people like my mother and aunt.

In a recent article by Freedom Caucus members Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, written about a week before the failed Affordable Care Act repeal vote in the Senate, the duo preemptively tried to discredit the Congressional Budget Office. They wrote,

Congress too often makes the mistake of blindly following projections of the Congressional Budget Office that later prove to be grossly inaccurate. The CBO’s reputation among the public and the media may be strong, but its track record in providing accurate estimates to Congress leaves much to be desired.

The pair then proceeds to show all the wrong projections about the CBO’s rating of the ACA. Although attacking the credibility of institutions represents a new low for the GOP, they are missing the larger picture.

Many (most?) Americans, like mom, are not interested in political blathering. And far too many Americans no longer trust the intentions of the GOP. Others, like the man I quoted, accept the reality that the current health care system needs tweaked and want improvement, not replacement. Americans like myself, expect a bi-partisan approach to health care because, at the end of the day, I don’t want my mother and aunt exempted from health care just to satisfy the Orange Menace’s ego or to pad a rich man’s wallet.

And, I certainly don’t want ideology to bankrupt an individual or a family — and even more importantly I do not want it to cost someone their life. One of the commenters to Davidson’s Apples-to-Oranges Tweet said,

Debt is only money, healthcare is American lives. Shame on you for showing your true priority of money over lives.

I agree and would add, if you’re pro-life, then be pro-life from the uterus to the grave.

Categories: 8th congressional district, health care, My America, Things I'm Tired Of, Understanding Trump Counties

Presidential Election Pushes Me Off Facebook

25784477746_83eb04c81a_zI’ve taken a much-needed reprieve from Facebook after this presidential election. The election taught me a lot, and it solidified my left-leaning political position as well as my belief that many Americans are motivated by fear.

Many also struggle with verifying information. Fake news and misinformation fuels the belief system of too many Americans. The stories I read on Facebook, with their numerous ‘unnamed sources,’ would have been laughable if written by The Onion. Instead they were championed and believed by those who posted them.

The Things People Believe

Some day I intend to list the most ludicrous beliefs I’ve heard in my life. Here is a non-political example of a ‘truth’ told to me by a Preble County resident years ago. A 40-something-year-old man explained why older men, and not younger ones, have high cholesterol. It is about sex, he noted. Young men have a lot more sex and, he said, when a man ejaculates it purges cholesterol from their body.

Besides being potential fodder for bawdy humor and one-liners, the statement has no basis in fact. Scientists, doctors, and the entire medical field have studied cholesterol and understand why it tends to plague older people. It’s really not complicated.

But, explaining that to a man who latched onto a homespun cholesterol theory would have been futile.

The same holds true with politics. Convinced that ‘God works in mysterious ways,’ many of my Facebook friends reasoned that president-elect (such difficult words to write) Donald Trump is part of God’s plan. It’s a convenient truth that totally disregards what Trump did to get into office.

Americans know politicians lie

Yet, in the case of Trump, his lies rallied supporters. Now, they are faced with his changing message. They are slowly learning that, despite the ‘Lock Her Up’ signs still visible in my county, Trump is not going to do that. He never was. As his cabinet appointments are demonstrating, he’s also not going to ‘drain the swamp.’ He is even hedging his bet on Obamacare.

Facebook taught me, though, none of this will matter to his fans.

In fact, I’m betting many of those supporters are already plunking down $150 to adorn their Christmas tree with a Trump ornament. Because, as the ad says, Trump really loves saying ‘Merry Christmas.’.

Categories: Life In A Red State, Politics, Preble County, Things I'm Tired Of | Tags: , ,