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As tax base shrinks, Oregon must turn from federal funds. Reduce rates, but increase taxable population for economic growth
  By BILL KENNEDY, guest writer for Herald and News 3/9/14 
     Some thoughts on our county taxes and the incredibly shrinking tax base:

   We continue to see advocacy for new taxing districts, tax levies and increasing the tax rates of property owners. Most of the advocacies are for well-deserving causes. We all want better schools and more graduates. We all enjoy our parks and who can argue against supporting recreation. Libraries, museums and the jail operations may have valid needs for funding.

   What we ignore is that our tax base is incredibly shrinking. Taxable acres in our county are becoming fewer. The number of acres included in our irrigation districts is becoming less. The value of the taxable acres is decreasing. Our timber tax revenue has been put to sleep. The result is that the annual revenue collected from the remaining, shrinking tax base is less.

   When irrigated landowners are paid with federal tax revenue not to irrigate, they are kept whole. The landowner can go somewhere else and rent lands to farm and irrigate, perhaps the Colombia River Gorge or Modoc County. The federal tax dollars that have streamed into the Klamath Basin are not staying here and they cannot be maintained.  

   In the meantime, the mechanism to support our community suffers. When there is a call on junior water rights and the irrigated land is dried up, the lands are taxed as dry lands instead of irrigated grounds and the tax base is reduced. So the schools, fire districts, cemetery districts and so forth receive less financial support. Our community suffers.

   How do we increase our tax base when over 55 percent of our county is owned by the federal government that does not pay into our tax base? The Klamath County commissioners have sent our federal government a property tax bill. It is about $3.6 million per year.

   How do we increase our tax base when our state mitigates for infringement on wetlands by purchasing twice the number of acres of private lands, converting them into wetlands? The new state-owned wetlands no longer contribute to our tax base.  

   My advocacy is to reduce our tax rates after we increase our tax base. My advocacy is to require any government to mitigate when it reduces our tax base.

   So when the Oregon Department of Transportation takes 40 acres of irrigated pasture off our tax rolls, it must mitigate by converting 80 acres of state lands to private ownership. When the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service buys 1,000 acres of irrigated farmland and floods it, it should also “sell” 2,000 acres of federal lands that then become a part of our county tax base.

   When our federal dollars are used to “purchase” 90,000 acres of private lands to be held in trust for another sovereign nation, the feds “sell” 180,000 acres of federal lands that contribute to our tax base.

   So, when you vote, decide if you want to continue down a slippery path of increased burden on private property, or increase the inventory of private property.

   Do you want to increase our dependence on the drug of federal assistance or become self-sufficient by growing our tax base?

   We realize we have a growing tax rate problem. Are we smart enough to wean ourselves away from a dead-end direction?


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