Eminent Domain And Property Taxes

Thursday, December 6, 2018

There is understandable anger and resistance to TVA's sudden land grabbing in Meigs County.  Surely the various governments in this area already own enough land to meet all their needs for a long time to come, and surely some of that land would be perfectly satisfactory for TVA's proposed new power center.  But, as with the local animal welfare groups and their inability or unwillingness to play nice and share facilities, different purposes and different personalities clash and they simply won't make do with what they've got. 

Eminent domain can seem like a reasonable, theoretically even necessary principle when it's described on paper and taught in a classroom.  The problem arises when eminent domain becomes personal -- when a government says it's going to take your property, my property, all our property, for the sake of the common good.  Then eminent domain suddenly becomes an evil adversary to the individual(s) involved, and a great stink is raised.  Of course, as a recent writer eloquently pointed out about government greed, it's not really 'government' that decides to take someone's private property; it is actually people, individuals in the government, who make that decision.  And it may be only one person who does the dirty work, someone who was never directly elected by our vote. 

Now, a government's power of eminent domain is very little different from the same government's power to tax.  Both represent the legalized ability of government to take whatever it wants.  I'm still facing two excessively large property tax bills for 2018, one from Hamilton County and one from the city of Chattanooga.  Both of those tax bills demand that I pay the government a great deal of money every year, merely because I was finally able at age 66 to buy a home 'of my own.'  Either I pay the bills or they'll take it all away from me.  The city and the county both regard this property and this house as somehow belonging to them, and they charge me dearly for occupying the place.  The fact is, one or two individuals in the county assessor's office decided without justification that I should pay through the nose in taxes, and there really isn't any recourse.

Eminent domain just directly takes property away from its owner(s), typically paying some nominal price for the place -- a price that is determined by the taker, not by the victim.  It's the same as if someone in government wants a man's cow, so the government ostensibly buys that cow from the man and takes it over.  The government decides on the price, pays the man, and takes his cow.  The man has no further rights or responsibility.

Property taxation, though, nominally leaves the property in the hands of its rightful owner, and leaves all of the responsibility for maintenance and upkeep with that owner.  In effect the government lets the man keep his cow, along with full responsibility for that cow's feeding, housing, and health care.  Rather than taking the cow, the government simply takes the milk.  And takes it forever, with no respite or end.

For those who doubt that governments own plenty of land in this city and this county, way too much land, just look at the shoreline of Moccasin Bend.  Beginning at the south tip, the state of Tennessee owns the hospital grounds.  Surrounding that is a lot of acreage owned by the United States National Park Service.  Then there is a public golf course jointly owned by the city and the county ("Surrounded by the wondrous beauty of some of the most fertile land in the country," they advertise), and a private gun firing range also jointly owned by the city and the county.  Next to the north is the city of Chattanooga's sewage treatment plant, followed by another large plot owned by the U.S. National Park Service.  North of that there are properties owned by the Electric Power Board and by TVA.  All of those government owned properties abut on one another, without a single privately owned property anywhere in the mix.  

There are at least five consecutive miles of river shoreline involved there, all down the west side of the Bend, all around the southern tip, and then all up the east side.  It's arguably some of the most valuable land anywhere around, and all of it is owned by government entities.  The total land area is close to 1,500 acres, more than two square miles -- again, all of it government owned, and none of it producing any tax revenue.  What that really means, of course, is that those of us who supposedly own our own homes and properties get taxed excessively to maintain all of those government acres and all of that valuable shoreline.

Some professions supposedly operate on the principle, You can pay me now, or you can pay me later.  But those generally honest and useful lines of work don't begin to compare to the various governments that lord it over us.  When it comes to the difference between eminent domain and property taxes, it's just a case of, We'll take it now, or we'll take it now.  You will pay us now, and you will pay us later.  The coin of eminent domain and property taxation has two sides -- and both sides are stamped Government.  Heads, they win; Tails, we lose.

If you don't believe that, just read the news.  Some day it will be your turn to cry and complain.

Larry Cloud
Lookout Valley

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