by Linda M. Crannell

PHS Commentary # 1

(aka  =The Poorhouse Lady)





First let me acknowledge that I have absolutely no idea what geographic, economic or political factors require the construction of a new highway exit that has necessitated the disinterment and removal to a mass grave of those buried in that pretty much publicly unacknowledged old poorhouse cemetery in Pennsylvania.  But it got me to thinking.  (Sorry.  I always lapse into dialect when I get riled up!)

I’m thinking about what such construction projects have usually meant in my neck of the woods, the Southwest.  Usually they mean one of two things: either some folks who live between the exits want to avoid a few extra minutes of driving time, or … God help us! … “Progress” is coming.

The particular manifestation of progress we are talking about here has acquired a new name lately. It’s called “gentrification” now.  People are moving to the countryside at rates that are many times the increase in the birth rate or the rate of immigration, or the rate of both added together. 

It’s pretty obvious what’s going on here: the “gentry” are on the run!  What are they running from?  (We already know what they are running to – your community.)  They are often running from the garbage they created and the unsolved problems they leave behind in their former communities.

They don’t need to commute in helicopters or chauffeured limousines to tip us off to the fact that these nouveau-rural (that’s French for newly rich enough to wear designer blue jeans and Italian made cowboy boots) are different. Another clue may be that each and every member of their household, including their Lhasa Apso pooch (that ain’t nothing like a hound dog!) has their very own oversized, gas-guzzling, road-ripping SUV … new every year, of course … plus a luxury sedan for dress-up occasions and a fun sports car for the family-at-large. And we do mean large! … the house, that is.  What clinches it is the fact that the houses they build are likely to contain several thousand square feet per individual household member.

Why are they coming to your part of the world?  Well, it’s usually for one of two reasons: retirement or business branching out.  Neither of those two reasons necessarily bring the best of neighbors.  I’ll probably get in trouble with the AARP (of which I am a member), but folks (whose age I am approaching) who are retiring (which is beginning to look like an impossible financial goal for me and many, many others to actually reach) tend to have different priorities (toward school funding, etc.) and their history and extended family are elsewhere.  They are also often only seasonal residents. They do spend money – usually just enough to reach some critical mass by which Wal-Mart finally decides it may be profitable to come to your area.

If you think that’s a good idea, you may want to think again.  Regarding the usually devastating effects on local businesses, you may want to read "How Wal-Mart is Destroying America (and the World) And What You Can Do About It" by Bill Quinn.

No, I am not kidding about the title!  ‘Nuff said?  If you would like to read something a little less raving, but nearly as critical, try “In Sam We Trust” by James D. Atkins. Or if you hope that Wal-Mart will keep your kids in town  longer than 30 seconds after they get their high school diplomas, read “Nickel and Dimed” by Barbara Ehrenreich. You will probably wind up hoping they can do better than that – a lot better!

But you say the businesses your Chamber of Commerce is courting are neither retirement communities nor Wal-Marts?  Okay, this is where it gets really interesting – and tricky.

Competition to attract new industry and other employers to local communities has become quite fierce.  City Fathers (and Mothers) are feverishly cutting deals to sweeten the pot.  The rationale behind this involves the ceaseless repetition of the fact that it will benefit the economy of the local community. But that’s not always the case.

“The Economy” is a very broad abstraction.  Gaining more jobs does not always result in prosperity for the community as a whole. The sudden introduction of a large employer into a community usually results in vastly increased profits for a few businesses or individuals.  However, an increase in the cost of living -- which is almost inevitable – places a severe hardship on many.

Raising such issues has lately been highly criticized because it is felt to be “inciting class warfare.”  But there is class warfare in this country already!  There has been ever since the beginning of the corporatization of business with the establishment of trusts (an ironic choice of terms which borders on being oxymoronic) in the late 1800s.  It just seems like one side doesn’t recognize the war or realize that their side is being shot down!

That’s because the weapons are stealthy ones which often fly under the radar of the average citizen who is too busy merely trying to earn a living wage to spend much time pouring over stock reports or studying economic indicators in depth. And the worst part is that the entry of these weapons is often cheered with great ceremony as towns and small cities triumphantly lead a modern day Trojan Horse through the streets. It bears a great big banner on its side which says:  GOOD FOR BUSINESS!  (Or as Molly Ivans insists it should correctly be pronounced – bidniz!)

To persuade a business to locate in a given community, they are offered huge financial “incentives”  (otherwise known as give-away's): extremely lower (than you or I get) utility costs,  extremely low or no property taxes,  land at very low cost (often with  special “improvements” already in place -- known as site readiness or build-outs if you or I had to obtain them for our own homes or businesses) etc., etc., etc.

But it is tax money paid by all of the citizens which  has paid for (and usually will continue to pay for) all of these “free” amenities.  And the swelling population will place ever greater burdens on the infrastructure: road construction and maintenance, expanded utilities, increased police protection and emergency medical services, and suddenly overcrowded schools.  So the cost of this progress is not only traffic congestion, likely environmental strain if not outright pollution,  and strained public services -- but also higher taxes.  And this we welcome!!!???  Yes, because we are told it is good for bidniz.

While we are currently hearing much debate about whether the taxation of dividends represents the injustice of “double taxation” – it’s truly amazing that no one seems to be carrying the banner of war against the triple taxation this represents.

Here’s how it works.  When somebody decides they can make a lot of money by “developing” the countryside or “gentrifying” a neighborhood, if you happen to already be living there, the value of your property goes up.  It gets appraised for more; therefore you have to pay more taxes.  The only “value added” here is the fact that somebody  (other than you) wants to make money selling it. If you don’t want to sell it … you may have to change your mind when you can’t pay the higher taxes. 

Why do we call that triple taxation?  Because it’s not over yet.  Remember that this increase in the valuation of your home or land has resulted from an increase in the numbers of people wanting to move to your community.  Remember that their presence will require increased services.  How is that paid for?  Usually by increasing the tax rate.

So … first the appraisal goes up … and then the rate goes up.  Sounds triple to most of us.

But, wait a minute; you say the new business and the increased population will have broadened the tax base?  Sigh.  Not if the leaders gave the farm away … your farm! … to get the businesses to come here in the first place.  Somehow the distribution of the tax burden doesn’t always work out to be very equitable.  Sometimes the new business doesn’t even pull its own weight in offsetting the increased costs.

So the next time someone tells you that the version of progress they are trying to sell in your community is … all-together-now … Good For Business … just ask:  Whose business?

And if the time comes when developers want to trash your old cemeteries, your response should be unequivocal.  Just say NO!  There will be no scraping of the local history from the land, no usurpation of the control of local politics, and no counterfeiting the character of our local communities. 


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