Tuesday, July 27, 2010

homesteads for future tax income?

NYTimes | Give away land to make money?

It hardly sounds like a prudent scheme. But in a bit of déjà vu, that is exactly what this small Nebraska city aims to do.

Beatrice was a starting point for the Homestead Act of 1862, the federal law that handed land to pioneering farmers. Back then, the goal was to settle the West. The goal of Beatrice’s “Homestead Act of 2010,” is, in part, to replenish city coffers.

The calculus is simple, if counterintuitive: hand out city land now to ensure property tax revenues in the future.

“There are only so many ball fields a place can build,” Tobias J. Tempelmeyer, the city attorney, said the other day as he stared out at grassy lots, planted with lonely mailboxes, that the city is working to get rid of. “It really hurts having all this stuff off the tax rolls.”

Around the nation, cities and towns facing grim budget circumstances are grasping at unlikely — some would say desperate — means to bolster their shrunken tax bases. Like Beatrice, places like Dayton, Ohio, and Grafton, Ill., are giving away land for nominal fees or for nothing in the hope that it will boost the tax rolls and cut the lawn-mowing bills.

Analysts say that this year and next, city budgets will reach their most dismal points of the recession, largely because of lag time inherent in the way taxes are collected and distributed.

Despite signs of a recovery, if a slow one, in other elements of the economy, it may be years away for many municipalities. Between now and 2012, America’s cities are likely to experience shortfalls totaling $55 billion to $85 billion, according to a survey by the National League of Cities, because of slumping revenues from property taxes and sales taxes and reduced support from state governments.