Saturday, September 15, 2007

Property taxes

September is property tax month in my county. I just paid mine. It has gone up substantially since I had my new garage built about a year and a half ago. The garage replaced a decrepit shack that was a neighborhood eyesore and possibly somewhat of a safety hazard, thus ripping it out and replacing it with a decent building was a service to the neighborhood, so I get rewarded with a tax increase.

We're all accustomed to property taxes. The more property you own, the more tax you pay. Fair? Well, perhaps not. The commodity we call "property" is actually two separate things: land and buildings. I don't truly "own" land. I only possess the privilege of putting my house, garage, and garden on it. It's right that I should pay taxes for this privilege, even if I didn't actually exercise the privilege.

It's much better for the community if I keep my buildings in good shape and replace them when they become decrepit, but if I'm penalized with higher taxes for doing so, that rather decreases my incentive, doesn't it?

All of my neighbors except one have had new garages built in the last fifteen years. All except that one have gotten their property taxes increased. The one neighbor who hasn't done so is thinking about it, but his budget is tight and he's not very eager for a tax increase on top of the building cost.

My property sits on a whopping five eighths of an acre, about twice as much as I really need. I suppose I could subdivide half of it off and sell it, but why bother? The legal manipulation would eat up most of the profit and the decrease in my property tax would be insignificant. Besides, it'll probably be worth more next year anyhow.

Just think of what would happen if my neighbors and I paid much higher taxes on our land and little or none on the buildings! We'd all have more incentive to upgrade our houses, garages, and gardens to the max, thus improving the appearance of the community. Those of us with large lots would have more incentive to sell off the excess, allowing a more densely built community with less urban sprawl.

Opinions, anybody? What do you think is fair?

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