There are legitimate reasons for local governments to own land, but surely it doesn’t make sense for them to hold on to surplus acreage. Better to get that land back in private hands, where it will be used for some productive purpose. This is why the downturn does have a silver lining. A handful of local governments are so anxious for more property tax revenue that they are going out of their way to make extra government-owned land available to private owners at rock-bottom prices. Ideally, they should have privatized their holdings years ago, but better late than never. Here’s a blurb from the New York Times about this development.
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. …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. …Officials acknowledge that the benefits sound modest, in the thousands of dollars annually, but say the revenue is needed. “What is the value of a lot to us if it’s empty?” said Tom Thompson, the mayor of Grafton, where an offer of 32 city-owned lots, promoted with a television advertising campaign, has quickly led to eight takers so far. “This is strictly financial — a way to go upstream from the trend.” In Dayton, officials are offering thousands of vacant, foreclosed or abandoned properties under certain conditions for nominal fees — $500, in many cases, to cover the cost of recording fees or $1,200 if the city must initiate tax foreclosure proceedings. The prospect of city savings on mowing fees alone is enormous: each year, Dayton spends $2 million to cut grass on the properties.