Somebody needs to put that greedy child in the corner
August 25, 2010 - Have you ever watched a greedy child open Christmas presents? It's not a pretty sight.
They rip open a package, take a brief look at their new toy, toss it aside, then head for the next gift.
When there are no more presents to open, the child, now surrounded by a sea of new toys, screams, 'Is that all?' and proceeds to throw a fit.
Government often reminds me of that greedy child, who deserves to be put in the corner. It's never satisfied with what it has. It always wants more, more, more.
More money. More land. More buildings. More projects.
Which brings me to my point this week – I was very disappointed that the Oxford Township Board recently voted to authorize the Parks and Recreation Department to purchase another 7 acres of land on S. Coats Rd.
Granted, $212,000 for 7 acres complete with a house, three-car garage, barn, shed and small pond is one heck of a bargain, even when you add in the $23,284 in loan interest.
But I seem to be one of the last people on earth who still believes just because we can do a thing, doesn't necessarily mean we should. My parents taught me this little thing called restraint.
As with any government purchase of land or buildings, the S. Coats Rd. property will be taken off the tax rolls.
That means an annual loss of approximately $2,100 in combined revenue for the township, library, fire department, police services, parks, schools and county.
All I hear lately is government officials whining and crying about how their tax revenues are decreasing as property values continue to decline.
Millage rates are worth less and less across the board, resulting in budget cuts, tax increases or both.
Given this, does it really seem like a good time for any government unit to buy more land so there's less property to tax?
The more land government owns, the less there is to tax, the more they have to tax our properties to make up the difference. It's a vicious cycle.
If you want to see an extreme case of how government ownership of land can erode a local tax base, look no further than Groveland Township.
According to Groveland Treasurer Dave Ax, "About 30 percent of our township of 36 square miles is owned by the government, which is state and county."
And that government land is all park land such as the 7,817-acre Holly Recreation Area, managed by the state's Department of Natural Resources, and the 361-acre Groveland Oaks County Park. "It definitely reduces (our tax base) and strains the fire and ambulances services that have to make runs into the parks," Ax said.
Ax noted Groveland does receive "funds in lieu of taxes" from the state for its DNR-run property, but it's only a "fraction of what we would be able to collect if the land was owned privately."
Plus, these state funds are based on 2004 tax rates, something that was arbitrarily decided in Lansing. "The state picked the number and that's all we can collect," Ax said.
Having all this untaxable park land especially hurts considering Groveland was "hit with the largest tax reduction of any place in the county," according to Ax.
"We had a 21 percent taxable value reduction," the treasurer said. "It was huge."
The only property the Groveland government owns is the land on which its township hall and two fire stations sit, plus 190 acres it received from a legal battle.
"We're looking to develop (the 190 acres), so we can sell it to somebody that we can tax," Ax noted.
But enough about Groveland. Back to Oxford Township.
I don't believe the parks department needed to buy this 7 acres in order to finally stop renting office space from the village for $12,000 per year and establish its headquarters at Seymour Lake Park.
I think the department already had plenty of land and money in its $259,000 fund balance to move its maintenance operations elsewhere within Seymour Lake Park and still convert its existing maintenance building into new administrative offices as is now planned.
But that isn't as sexy as buying more property with a house and barn on it. Where's the fun if you don't have a new present to open?
Oxford's Parks and Recreation Department currently has 494 acres of park land. When it closes on the S. Coats Rd. property, it will have 501 acres plus a house.
Back in 2006, the department purchased 14 acres for $225,000 and added it to Seymour Lake Park.
It should be noted all this township park land does NOT include the 40.4 acres of village park land, the 4.9 miles of the Polly Ann Trail that runs through Oxford or the 425 acres of untaxable, state-owned land in the township.
Exactly, how much more park land do we need?
When is enough, enough?
At what point does a government department's expansion go from simply trying to meet residents' needs to building an Empire so others can envy you?
I think these are fair questions every taxpayer should be asking, but probably won't because our parks and rec. department is very popular and frequently used. But I don't think popularity should prevent questions from being asked and opposing viewpoints from being expressed.
I know I'm not supposed to write things like this, express my opinion or ask these types of questions because it upsets the delicate egos of our Community Leaders.
I know I'm just supposed to keep my mouth shut, turn my brain off, plaster a stupid smile on face and go with the flow. After all, Oxford rocks.
But that's really not me. I'm a contrarian by nature.
The economy's still in the toilet. Lots of folks are still having trouble paying their bills. People are still losing their homes. So, forgive me if I get angry when a government agency decides to buy more land and expand the Empire's boundaries.
I think it would be great if all of our local government leaders were required to spend at least one day volunteering at the Oxford/Orion FISH pantry, which provides basic groceries to those in need.
Maybe that would bring them back down to earth and they wouldn't be in such a hurry to keep spending and buying.